Washington DC, September 2007
During the first week of September, 2007, a handful of CAICW board members and families traveled to Washington DC to speak with officials about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and its affect upon their children. At each meeting, we told of our personal experiences and gave the Officials ten additional letters written by CAICW families specifically for this purpose as well as a list of policy changes that could help to protect children.
On Tuesday morning, Sept. 4, we met with Aide to Senator John McCain, Mr. Nick Martiella. Mr. Martiella seemed concerned about the family situations we presented to him and was interested in the policy changes. He said he’d like to look into it some more.
At noon, we went to the National Press Club, where we were introduced to two women representing the National Congress of American Indians. Cinda Hughes is a legislative associate and Kraynal Alfred is a Communications and Events Specialist. We spent about a half hour together listening to each other’s perspective.
Later that day, we were invited to the Old executive building to meet with a member of the Domestic Policy Council. The DPC is an advisory group to the President. We met at the Old Executive Building, which is part of the White House Complex and had to go through a little more security then we had at other meetings. The Assistant we met with said he would like to work with us and learn more.
The following day, Wednesday, Sept. 5, we met with Mr. Mark Jette, an aide to Senate Committee of Indian Affairs freshman John Tester (D-MT). Walking into the room, Mr. Jette mentioned growing up in Ronan, the town we are from, and made a little small talk in that direction. Mr. Jette had a negative impression of our work with federal Indian policy, so I began by discussing my husband Roland’s heart and the reasons he had gotten involved with Federal Indian Policy issues. Roland had watched many in his family die tragically and violently. After he became a Christian, he came to believe that current federal policy was hurting people more than helping them. He desired to change things for his extended family by becoming involved politically. Mr. Jette remained somewhat cool toward us, but did agree that some of the policy points had merit; specifically our request that it be made clear in ICWA that parents can designate a legal guardian in their Wills.
Later, we met with Tracy Toulou, Director of Tribal Justice at the DOJ. While sympathetic and seeming to wish tribal justice was better, he said that injustice is common in both tribal and state courts. He understood the difficulties with tribal courts, but reiterated that what the CAICW families need are good lawyers.
At 3 pm, we met with Cindy Darcy, who is the aide in charge of ICWA for the Senate Comm. on Indian Affairs Chairman, Byron Dorgan (D-ND). We explained the policy issues we were concerned with and lightly summarized our family stories as illustrations of the policy deficiencies. I also mentioned other examples, such as the Rodriguez boys, who without warning were taken from their Latino grandparents and given to their Ute grandmother only to suffer severe abuse because they were speaking Spanish. Ms. Darcy took lots of notes and agreed to put the folders we had prepared into the separate mailboxes for each Senator on the committee. Each folder consisted of the letter to Senator Dorgan outlining the policy issues along with footnotes supporting them, copies of the ten stories sent to us by ten separate families, a CAICW brochure, and a CAICW newsletter from the summer of 2006 outlining a few other family stories as well as some of the work CAICW has been doing.
By far the best meeting was with the last one for that day, with Brian Treat, aide to Senator Colburn (R-OK). Right off the bat, he asked if he could bring in his Chief of Staff, Michael Schwartz, because “he is interested, too.” This meeting lasted for over an hour. Mr. Schwartz thought the policy points were common sense and obtainable. They look forward to working with us on this issue. He also advised us to make alliances with adoption agencies and churches.
Our last meeting was Thursday morning at the DOI – Bureau of Indian Affairs, with Stephanie Birdwell. The BIA is unable to change policy; they only regulate it. However, in that function, there are things they can do. Tribes are awarded AFA’s – Annual funding agreements – to run their judicial systems. If there is documented evidence that the compact for the AFA isn’t being administered properly, the AFA can be dropped. If this is an action that needs to be taken, Local people need to be the legs to gather the necessary information.
Press Release that went out August 28, 2007:
CHILDREN, DISCRIMINATION AND THE INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT
Children’s Lives Destroyed by ICWA
Across America, children that have never been near a reservation nor involved in tribal customs are routinely being removed from homes they love and placed with strangers chosen by tribes.
Though proponents of the ICWA argue that the act has safeguards to prevent misuse, scores of multi-racial children are being negatively affected by application of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
Over decades, numerous tribal members have married non-members and moved off the reservations. Many chose to leave because they didn’t want their children raised amid the dangers rampant in Indian Country.
However, ICWA authorizes tribal jurisdiction over any child who is a member of a tribe, or eligible for membership and the biological child of a member. Tribal governments determine their own membership and most require only 1/4 blood quantum, The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma goes further and claims jurisdiction over any child with ancestry tracing back to the Dawes Rolls no matter how minute the blood quantum. Making matters worse, some states have recently passed laws barring courts from considering whether a child or his family have any real connection to the tribe. As a result, the following occurs:
“.. it was discovered she (the birthmother) is 1/128th Cherokee. That makes my son 1/256 or .0039% Native American and 99.9961% not…. His mother…was very adamant about the Cherokee Nation NOT raising her child and the court records show this. In April of 2006, we were notified of the Cherokee Nation’s intent to take us to court and remove our son from our home… Since then, we have been in a constant state of panic…”
Any emotionally healthy child, no matter their heritage, is devastated when taken from home and forced to live with strangers. Even children of 100% tribal heritage are devastated if they’re taken from non-tribal families they love and placed with strangers they know nothing about.
The Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare (CAICW) is the only national organization advocating for families who have lost or are at risk of losing children due to misapplied and sometimes illegal application of the ICWA. The CAICW will be at the National Press Club at 12 noon, Tuesday, September 4, 2007, with affected families sharing about this growing problem.
Letters from birth parents, grandparents, foster families, pre-adoptive families, and tribal members themselves can be read at (https://caicw.org/familystories.html )