Building better relationships with Vermont’s Abenaki tribes
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Building better relationships with Vermont’s Abenaki tribes-- that’s what the Vermont Department for Children and Families is hoping to achieve with the creation of their newest position. The role is called the Indian Child Welfare Act coordinator. The title references the federal law that aims to keep Native American children under the care of relatives or tribe members whenever safe and possible. Because Abenaki tribes are recognized by the state but not by the federal government, that federal law doesn’t apply to them.
“Vermont is one of the few states that does not have any federally recognized tribes. But that doesn’t mean that we do not see these families,” said Lindsay Barron, the policy and planning manager for the Department for Children and Families.
When a child could have tribal affiliation or heritage, the coordinator will be responsible for verifying that information with the relevant tribes before a child is placed in another home. Advocates like Jeff Bena,y the director of Indian education for Franklin County public schools, say that placing an emphasis on the child’s culture could be a game changer.
“It breaks your heart when you see some of the stuff and some of the things that these kids go through. And it really is a traumatic experience. If we can reduce that level of trauma, for so many of the kids this would be amazing… If the state of Vermont can finally say that we want to work with you, and we understand that there’s a culture here and we understand that there’s this distinct community, what can we do to support kids? Well, this is going to go a long way,” said Benay.
Currently, a paralegal with the Vermont attorney general’s office conducts these tribal verifications after DCF workers speak with a child’s family member.
“It’s rethinking where it’s sitting within state government. And so, our intention first and foremost of this position is to continue to maintain compliance with an ICWA and all the notification work that we’re already doing that’s already happening. It’s not just about federal compliance, and it’s not just about the law, but it’s about doing what is right and doing what is best practice,” said Barron.
The Department for Children and Families hopes the coordinator will help build collaborative relationships with Vermont’s Abenaki communities, as well as strengthen existing partnerships.
Joanne Crawford, the chief of the Abenaki nation of Missisquoi, says she hopes the same.
“I think this is a great opportunity for there to be more communication and support and for us to work together and make sure that it’s happening in a very sensitive way to all that are involved because this is a very traumatic event for children and it’s traumatic for families. I would love to see us be part of creating policy around this,” said Crawford.
The application for the position has already closed and the person who is hired for the role is expected to begin in October.