Washington DC, January 2011

Dr. William B. Allen

This was by far the best visit to DC that we’d had yet. Our group, including parents from New Mexico, Wisconsin, Virginia, and S. Dakota, began Monday, January 24th with a meeting with Dr. William Allen, Emeritus Professor, Political Science, MSU, who broached the question as to whether the ICWA was intended for the best interest of the child or the best interest of the tribe. How is it being interpreted and enforced? He reminded us that tribal governments are accountable to Congress, which has plenary power over them. He then asked, “Has Congress, in passing the ICWA, taken the position of Pontius Pilate” – and essentially washed its hands of these children?

We can’t allow Congress to do that. We, as families, have been helpless before this law. Many families have had little opportunity to protect themselves or their children. This is about Constitutional rights – our Equal Protection.

Senator-elect John Hoeven
Senator-elect John Hoeven

We next met with the Chief of Staff for Senator Hoeven (R-ND), Don Larson, and his assistant, Kaitland. Senator Hoeven has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. (SCIA). Mr. Larson felt this issue was something the Senator could “move forward” with.

We also met with Katherine Haley, Assistant to Policy for Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH). She said that the speaker holds great importance to protecting families and that the Speaker can get behind this. She told us to push for committee hearings and reminded us that federal policy and oversight is a touchy subject.

While some of us were visiting the Speaker’s office, others visited with Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), who is also a member of the SCIA. Those who visited his office were not confident that he would be helpful, and aides to Senator Kohl (D-WI): kept referring us back to the tribes, saying everything is up to them.

Aide to Rep Berg (R-ND), Patrick Buell, was very interested and said he would talk to a staffer friend of his on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs – and he did. The friend called on Wednesday, February 3rd and was encouraging. He thought new hearings might be possible – if the new Chairman agreed.

Some of us began Tuesday, January 25th, with a meeting with Gary Bauer, of American Values.org. He urged us to find one person in the House and one in the Senate who will make this issue their cause – who will see it as an opportunity to become a real reformer. He also encouraged us to find a new Governor who isn’t afraid to make this issue a priority.

We next met with Clay Lightfoot, aide to Senator Coburn (R-Ok). Senator Coburn had been a long standing member of the SCIA up until this year when he was moved from the committee. Still, his office has had an interest in this issue over the years. Their interest continues despite having been moved from the committee.

Fern Goodhart, aide to Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), also on the SCIA, was less encouraging. She said there was little that can be done as the issue is up to the tribes and the Committee.

Rep. Kristi Noem’s office, (R-SD), was very welcoming and interested. We met with her aide, Renee Latterell. Brand new to Congress, Rep. Noem is a Teaparty conservative who has been assigned to House Committee on Resources and its subcommittee on Indian Affairs. Renee was VERY encouraging and said they would like to help.

Rep Michelle Bachmann’s aide, (R-MN), Reneee Doyle was also very kind and helpful. We told her that my children and grandchildren are all enrollable with the Minnesota Chippewas Tribe, and that the State of Minnesota had made it much more difficult for families such as ours when they passed a law three years ago forbidding judges to even consider whether or not a child or family is connected with the tribal community. She said she would do her best to talk to Rep. Bachmann, who is also a foster mom, about it.

On Wednesday, we met with Lea Stueve, aide to Senator Johnanns (R-NE)(SCIA): She wasn’t as encouraging and said that the issue is up to the committee.

John Fetzer, aide to Senator Conrad (D-ND)(SCIA), was very warm and interested. He said that new hearings are worth taking a look at “especially when it affects kids this directly.” He told us to keep in touch with him “if it’s not moving along as fast as you would like.”
Remember – As one Senate Aide told us: we need to get on the phone and preach this: ~ The welfare of children shouldn’t be political; it MUST be about the best interest of the child. We must remove “preference” for tribes and give strength to family. ~

UPDATE – Renee Doyle, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, aide, called two weeks ago and said that she has spent nights thinking about our meeting with her on January 25th. The story that she had heard from one of the mother’s with us had “broken her heart.” She wanted the mother to know that her story had not fallen on deaf ears, and that she was meeting with Don Young’s aide to talk about it. I gave her Dr. William Allen’s contact phone number to get some additional questions answered.

Letters from birth parents, grandparents, foster families, pre-adoptive families, tribal members and non-members can be read at: https://caicw.org/familystories.html

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