After a decade-long effort in conjunction with the federal and state departments of Health and Human Services, the state Attorney General's Office, and tribal lawyers, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has achieved a landmark goal -- complete control over the welfare of their own children. The 1,000-member Tribe in western Washington became the first in the nation to assume all control of guardianships, foster care, and adoptions for their children. Under an agreement with the federal government, the Tribe has disengaged the oversight by DSHS and is now solely responsible for its child-welfare cases.
The contemporary practice of removing Native American children from reservations in child-welfare cases has been likened to the infamous boarding-school era, when the federal government forcibly placed Native children in state or religious institutions to “assimilate” them into “American” culture.
To break away from this system, Port Gamble S'Klallam's children and families coordinator Jolene George has spent years working with DSHS to draft policies on how they would handle child-welfare protocols, which are listed under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. "We will no longer lose our children," George said. "We didn't do this with a grant. We put our efforts, our money and whatever we could to do this."
Francine Swift, a member of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribal Council, said it's vital to have children stay on the reservation so they don't forget their ancestry and traditions. She said that before the Indian Child Welfare Act, children were adopted out and lost complete contact with their relatives, ancestors, and culture. "We never want to see our kids go through this again," Swift said.