NSDC intervenes in custom adoption court case

A grandmother is seeking financial support from a birth father in a court case involving a custom-adopted child.



The Nunavut Social Development Council plans to seek intervenor status in a court case in an effort to protect the practice of Inuit custom adoption in Nunavut.

The case involves a custom adoption. The adoptive mother, the child’s grandmother, is seeking some financial support from the child’s biological father.

This case could have far-reaching consequences for Inuit custom, said Paul Crowley, a lawyer who is also a special advisor to the NSDC.

“The court may have to define custom adoption,” Crowley said.

Custom adoption is considered to be the most open form of adoption, since children know they have been adopted and who their birth parents are.

There’s a specific word for adopted child in Inuktitut: “tiguaq,” and people will often openly identify such a child as “my adopted’ child.”

“Custom adoption is most practiced form of adoption in Nunavut,” Crowley said.

The custom adoptions act is part of the legislation inherited by Nunavut when it became an independent territory in 1999. Nunavut’s Law Reform Commission is preparing recommendations for changes to the act.

Crowley said the NSDC is not concerned with the specific details of the case but is seeking intervenor status to protect Inuit custom adoption. Biological parents normally relinquish their rights and responsibilities towards a child when the government adoption certificate is issued and the adoptive parents assume full rights and responsibilities as legal parents of the child.

The situation can differ depending on where the child is adopted, because custom adoption is viewed differently in three regions of Nunavut, and even within regions.

Crowley said the outcome of the case may even affect long-term care and other issues involving biological parents.

The case involves the custom adoption of a child by the birth mother’s parents. As the child grew older, the grandparents found it increasingly difficult to look after the child, and when the grandfather died, it put more hardship on the grandmother.

James Bryden, the grandmother’s lawyer, is now seeking financial support from the birth father through the courts. The child is 14.

Under the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act, custom adoptions become legal when the adoptive parents get the child. It doesn’t have to go to court, said Marie Irniq, the manager of adoptions for the Nunavut government’s health and social services department.

Private or government adoptions become final when a certificate is given to the adoptive parents, she said. This is the main difference between the two adoption practices.

Irniq said both types of adoption are final and the birth parents relinquish legal rights and responsibilities towards the child.

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