Developing one's self: Adoption and identity formation through the eyes of transracially adopted Native American adults

by Becker-Green, Jody, Ph.D., PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY, 2009, 239 pages; 3368247


Life story methods were used to explore the contextual factors that influenced the experiences and identity formation of seven Native American adults who were transracially adopted prior to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. These methods provided a deeper understanding of how these individuals have integrated their adoption experiences into their evolving sense of self. The life story methodology offered a way to acknowledge and validate participants' life experiences and allowed for the collection of rich information from the perspectives of the adoptees.

The life story interviews were structured to gather information on the influence of one's adoptive family and cultural, social, and educational experiences on participants' developing sense of self. Even though an interview guide was developed for use in the study, each story uniquely unfolded in a manner the participant was comfortable sharing.

The study examined the life stories for patterns or emerging themes related to identity development at different points in the narrators' life cycles in order to develop an aggregate account of the contextual factors influencing identity formation as well as a collective understanding of sense of self. The study identified 12 contextual factors that have both positively and negatively influenced identity development among the participants throughout their lifespan. These factors are: (1) adoptive family; (2) community; (3) educational experiences; (4) religion/spirituality; (5) travel; (6) exposure to cultural experiences; (7) employment; (8) friendships; (9) peer groups; (10) military; (11) societal messages, and (12) reconnection to tribal heritage. Overall, findings from this study suggest that the majority of participants have developed strong Native American, multi-cultural, and/or bi-cultural identities that incorporate their various experiences as transracial adoptees.

Practice considerations for transracial adoptees as well as adoptive parents are suggested. Policy implications relating to granting access to original birth and/or adoption related records are presented. Finally, future research recommendations are offered specific to Native American transracial adoptees, their biological families, and tribal communities from which they adopted. While the practice, policy, and research recommendations are specific to Native American transracial adoptees, the recommendations may have broader implications to a wider population of adoptees in general.

Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsSocial work; Developmental psychology; Public policy; Ethnic studies; Native American studies
Publication Number3368247

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