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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Indian Child Welfare Act Turns 40


It Takes a Movement to Raise an Indian Child


As the Indigenous peoples of this land, countless generations have built a base of wisdom about how to raise our children in community.

Last month, a federal district court made an egregious ruling ignoring the government-to-government relationship between tribal nations and the federal government. In Brackeen v. Zinke, the U.S. District Court in Northern Texas ruled in favor of Texas, Indiana and Louisiana and several foster and adoptive families, declaring that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a race-based law lacking a present-day articulation of its need. The court found ICWA to be unconstitutional. In this context, it is important to elevate the lingering effects of historical governmental policies and practices on Native children and families — including the removal of tribal nations from their traditional homelands to reservations, relocation of Native peoples to major cities, and numerous efforts to assimilate Native children.
Prior to contact with European immigrants, tribal practices and beliefs about raising a child allowed a natural system of child protection to flourish. Traditional Indian spiritual beliefs reinforced that all things had a spiritual nature that demanded respect, including children. Not only were children respected, they were taught to respect others. Extraordinary patience and tolerance marked the methods that were used to teach Indian children self-discipline. At the heart of this natural system were beliefs, traditions and customs involving extended family with clear roles and responsibilities. Responsibilities shared by extended family and community members made protection of children the responsibility of all people in the community. Within the natural safety net of traditional tribal settings and beliefs, child maltreatment was rarely a problem.

As European migration to the United States increased, traditional tribal practices in raising children were devalued or lost as federal programs sought to systematically assimilate Native people. Efforts to “civilize” the Native population were almost always focused on children. It began as early as 1609, when the Virginia Company, in a written document, authorized the kidnapping of Indian children for the purpose of civilizing local Indian populations through the use of Christianity. The “Civilization Fund Act” passed by Congress in 1819 authorized grants to private agencies, primarily churches, to establish programs in tribal communities designed to “civilize the Indian.”
Removing and relocating Native people onto reservations between 1830 and 1871 forced tribes to leave behind customs tied to their traditional lands, adjust their economies, and change their ways of life without the support promised by the federal government.

A class in penmanship at the Red Deer Indian Industrial School. Photo courtesy Victoria University Archives.

From the 1860s through the 1970s, the federal government and private agencies established large boarding schools, far from reservations, where Indian children were placed involuntarily. Agents of the federal government had the authority to withhold food and clothing from parents who resisted sending their children away. In boarding schools, children were not able to use their Native languages or traditional customs, were required to wear uniforms and cut their hair, and were subjected to military discipline and standards.

As the federal government began to recognize how the removal and reservation of tribal communities hurt Native people, it instituted the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, moving thousands of Natives to large cities. This program not only broke down family systems, but also left families and individuals stranded away from their communities and natural support systems in unfamiliar environments.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the child welfare system became another avenue that state and federal governments used to force the assimilation of Native children. During this era, 25 to 35 percent of all Native children were separated from their families — and 90 percent of children removed were placed in non-Native homes.

In 1978, the passage of ICWA acknowledged the inherent sovereign right of tribal governments and the critical role they play in protecting their member children and maintaining families.

In the face of centuries of unjust treatment of Native families and communities by federal and state governments, tribal governments have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of our families and to raise our children within tribal communities. Advocates in Indian Country are uniting because we know the adage “it takes a village” is truer now that it ever has been — today, it takes a movement to raise an Indian child.


Sarah
 Kastelic is executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) — the only national American Indian organization focused specifically on tribal capacity to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect. Before coming to NICWA, Kastelic served the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), including founding the NCAI Policy Research Center.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Powwow Welcomes Returning Natives


At the Gathering for our Children and Returning Adoptees Powwow in 2015, the American Indian community in Minneapolis welcomes home Native people who were raised in foster care or adopted out. (Photo courtesy of Red Lake Nation News.)
By Camille Erickson

Each year, the Minneapolis American Indian Center fills with adoptees, formerly fostered individuals and families for the Gathering For Our Children and Returning Adoptees Powwow. Now in its fifteenth year, the powwow is held on Saturday, Nov. 3 2018 at the Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC) to once again provide a vital space for community healing and celebration.

“There are so many things that happen that day that are always miracles,” said Jacque Wilson, coordinator of the Bois Forte Urban Office and an organizer of the powwow.

The morning of the powwow, Sandra White Hawk (Sicangu Lakota) gathers with adoptees, formerly fostered individuals and birth relatives to visit with one another and share their experiences. White Hawk has been an organizer of the powwow since its beginning, and she remains an intrepid advocate for First Nations people impacted by foster care or adoption. Among her myriad roles, she serves as the director of First Nations Repatriation Institute.

Too often, conversations about the trauma caused by family separation and adoption remain buried under a veil of silence, explained White Hawk. Some attendees have never had the opportunity to attend a powwow or connect with the American Indian community. White Hawk works hard to foster a ceremonious and welcoming environment. “We mostly want to give them an opportunity to share in a way that they’ve probably never been able to,” White Hawk said.

For over a decade, a group of Native adoptees and formerly fostered individuals in Minneapolis have met each month to support one another. Many of them come out every first Saturday in November to welcome those returning to the circle. “Because of their healing as part of this community, they are there to greet our new people who have never been here before,” said White Hawk. Elders also share stories about the painful history of removal and cultural erasure in American Indian communities that ripped thousands of youth away from their families and tribal identity.

The space also welcomes and receives birth mothers. White Hawk hopes that the gathering can serve as a time for birth mothers to develop compassion for themselves and shed layers of guilt or shame. “For our mothers who lost [children] under all kinds of circumstances, our hope is that we continue to encourage them to be a part of our circle,” said White Hawk. “They gave us life and that was the most important thing.”

Following the morning gathering, the powwow begins in the auditorium. Community members are invited and encouraged to attend. The entrance of the color guard in the grand entry signals the celebration’s beginning. Adoptees and formerly fostered relatives follow in their stead, making their way back to the circle. In the eyes of White Hawk, the following “Wablenica ceremony” is dedicated to “taking care of the hearts of our relative who are making their way back to this circle and the hearts of our relatives who lost us.”

The ceremony can be laden with emotion, particularly grief, at the beginning, she said. But by the end, the adoptees and formerly fostered individuals stand in the circle and the community comes forward to welcome them. “Our hearts are just lifted,” she said. “Some people have never heard the phrase, ‘welcome home,’ and it makes them feel the acceptance and sense of belonging that is so needed for our people.”

For many, this is the day that healing begins.

Fifteen years of dedication from three Native women

Sandy White Hawk. (Photo
courtesy of Red Lake Nation News.)
The powwow started in 2003 with a call for healing. And Jacque Wilson, Sandra White Hawk and Tina Knafla are three women whose lives have been touched both personally and professionally by the impacts of American Indian adoption and foster care. Throughout their lives of service, they each have seen and felt the intergenerational trauma present in their communities. “There is so much pain around adoption and the loss of children because of the Indian adoption era and the boarding school era,” said Knafla, who in 2003, worked with Hennepin County as an ICWA adoptions recruiter. “I really felt like we needed to address that.”

In addition to the forcible placement of American Indian children into abusive boarding schools beginning in the 1860s, the Child Welfare League of America instituted the Indian Adoption Project from 1958 to 1967. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Children’s Bureau were also complicit in this program. The government ripped American Indian children away from their tribes and families and placed a vast majority of them into non-Native foster or adoptive homes. According to a 1976 surveys commissioned by the Association on American Indian Affairs, 25 to 35 percent of American
Indian children were removed from their families between 1941 and 1967.

After exhaustive calls for justice from Native communities, The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted in 1978 by Congress. It requires the state to place American Indian children experiencing foster care with family or relatives as often as possible. But only about half of Native children in foster care in Minnesota find Native homes, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. And the trauma from these twentieth century policies linger in the lives of adoptees and their communities who still reckon with family separation.

After attending a National Indian Child Welfare Association conference in Duluth in 2003, Knafla felt compelled to expand opportunities for healing with the support of the county. She began reaching out to community agencies and colleagues, including White Hawk and Wilson, to uplift resources for Native communities processing the impacts of family separation. The three women believed that a powwow would provide a needed space for healing and celebration.

Organizers obtained the sponsorship of Hennepin County and the Minnesota Department of Human Services, among other community agencies. This support continues to keep the powwow strong and sustained. “That collaboration is very unique between Hennepin County and the community,” said Knafla. “We’re still here, 14 years strong.”

The year the powwow began, Wilson worked in the juvenile justice courts representing state tribes in child welfare cases. She yearned to see foster families participating in more culturally-relevant activities. In her eyes, the powwow would provide an opportunity for foster youth to establish a connection to their identity.

“The more the children know about who they are and where they come from, the less traumatic it is for them,” explained Wilson. “It also gives them a place to look for answers when they become older.”

Although her job has since changed, Wilson continues to support people who she said have been away from their families or tribes for a generation or more. The gathering would also be an opportunity to connect families with foster care agencies to expand the availability of culturally-involved, Native homes for youth still in foster care.

“This powwow is still important to me because that trauma has not gone away on many levels,” she said. “It’s always important for [returnees] to learn who they are, because in order to be a full human being, it’s best that you know who you are, where you came from, or your people.”

Adoptees from all over the country attend the powwow in Minneapolis. “We’re trying to share what we’ve learned and get other tribes and communities to recognize their returning adoptees and birth mothers in whatever kind of ceremonies they want to do,” said Wilson.

Organizers of the powwow envision a time when reservations and Native communities across the country create their own spaces that encourage returning relatives to heal.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Indian children and families deserve better | WE NEED #ICWA

Official Statement: Joint Statement on the Federal District Court of Northern Texas denying to stay the court’s ruling on constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act

(Portland, OR, October 30, 2018)—The National Indian Child Welfare Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and the Native American Rights Fund are disappointed that the Federal District Court of Northern Texas has denied a motion to stay their decision in Brackeen v. Zinke pending appeal by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. 
This will likely cause great uncertainty and disruption for hundreds of vulnerable Indian children and their families who are currently in state child welfare systems within the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, especially as we enter the holiday season and the Fifth Circuit moves forward with what may be months of proceedings. 
Indian children and families deserve better, and we hope that the Fifth Circuit will move quickly to consider a motion to stay this lower federal court decision.
# # #
Read the full joint statement here.

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To Veronica Brown

Veronica, we adult adoptees are thinking of you today and every day. We will be here when you need us. Your journey in the adopted life has begun, nothing can revoke that now, the damage cannot be undone. Be courageous, you have what no adoptee before you has had; a strong group of adult adoptees who know your story, who are behind you and will always be so.

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ADOPTION TRUTH

As the single largest unregulated industry in the United States, adoption is viewed as a benevolent action that results in the formation of “forever families.”
The truth is that it is a very lucrative business with a known sales pitch. With profits last estimated at over $1.44 billion dollars a year, mothers who consider adoption for their babies need to be very aware that all of this promotion clouds the facts and only though independent research can they get an accurate account of what life might be like for both them and their child after signing the adoption paperwork.

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