DLN Issues : Native Child and Family Rights
For the children in exile
For more information see also DLN Coalition Working Group on Native Child and Family Rights and Resources and DLN Issues, Juvenile Justice
Despite the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), adoption and fostering out of Indian children into non-Indian families continues at levels that can only suggest a continuing program of ethnic cleansing.
The crisis is discussed in the following excerpt from the United Nations' Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, 57th session, Item 13 of the provisional agenda, "Rights to the Child", a written statement submitted by the International Indian Treaty Council.
The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) commends the Rapporteur of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Mr. Jaap Doek for his work for full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In his report to the 18th session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (E/CN.4/Sub.2/2000/24) Mr. Doek spoke "...of the moral obligation upon the United States (of America) to refrain from taking measures which would negatively affect the situation of Indigenous children in that Country."
The IITC submits to this body a dismal report of the critical situation for American Indian children living in the U.S. impacted by dire poverty, poor health conditions, environmental contamination and widespread removal by adoption or foster care from their Indigenous communities.
In 1998, it was reported by that 38.6% of all American Indian, Aleut and Eskimo children live in poverty. And although the Report cites an "unprecedented economic growth and employment in the United States," during this time period, it notes that the highest rate of unemployment is reported for Native Americans, in some cases over 50%.
In March of 2000 the South Dakota Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights reported that men in Bangladesh have a higher life expectancy than Native American men in South Dakota, USA, and that rates of death from a variety of causes was considerably higher for Native Americans than for the general US population, including alcoholism (579%), tuberculosis (475%), and diabetes (231%).
Even more tragic, infant mortality in Indian Country in the US was reported to be double the national average, and Pine Ridge Lakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota has the highest infant mortality rate in the Country.
In an intervention submitted to the Commission's 54th session, E/CN.4/1998/NGO/66, IITC reported that United States Public Law 95-608, the "Indian Child Welfare Act" (ICWA), implemented in 1978 to curtail the high rate of removal of Indian children from their communitiesby adoption to nonIndian families, was being eroded by a more recent presidential initiative called the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA, 1995), which eliminated cultural and social standards for adoption.
Despite the provisions of ICWA, "Transracial placement" of Indigenous children in the US continues today at a rate that is alarming to American Indian Peoples. In 1976, a nationwide study found that up to 1,400 Indian children per year were being adopted by non-Indian homes. By 1997 it was estimated that more than 50,000 Indian children in the U.S. lived away from their cultural roots as adoptees in non-Indian families! (American Humane Association). This statistic does not include many thousands of Indian children living in protective custody of foster parents. It is well documented that Indian children are placed in out-of-home care at a rate 3.6 times greater than that of the general population, a direct and ongoing threat to the preservation of Indian families, cultures, languages and social structures.
In 1996, at the direction of President Clinton, the Secretary of Health and Human Services developed a plan of specific strategies to move children more quickly from foster care t opermanent homes and to meet the goal of at least doubling adoptions and other permanent placement over the next five years. This plan, Adoption 2002, appears to be in conflict with the intentions of the ICWA and the Convention on the Rights of the Child articles 5, 8,9, 14, 20, 29, and 30 as it promotes and rewards transracial placement and removal of Indigenous children for adoption outside their own extended families, cultures and communities.
Current studies have investigated the damaging effects of transracial placement which include psychological damage, ethnic identity confusion, self-concept formation difficulties, and adolescence repercussions such as alcoholism and high rates of suicide.
The traditional Native American extended family and tribal social structure makes the need for removal of children from their communities and the tribe unnecessary violation of Indigenouschildren's human rights and cultural survival. The wholesale placement of American Indian children into non-Indigenous homes should be stopped.
On November 8, 1997, the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment, and the Midwest Treaty Network co-sponsored a "Native Health and Sovereignty Symposium" in Milwaukee to explore the "dangerous intersections" of population control, environmental racism, the prison system, and the anti-immigration backlash as they pertain to Native communities. The symposium recognized the problem of Indian children in foster care, noting that Indian children are in foster care for a term of usually 7-10 years whereas non-Indians are usually fostered for 2 years. Foster care for the Indian child thus becomes, essentially, an adoption.
The Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted to address the enormous number of Indian children that were being adopted into non-Indian homes. In fact, one quarter of all Indian children in Minnesota are being raised by non-Indians. Loa Porter discussed the Indian Child Welfare Act, particularly as it applies to foster care. The Indian Child Welfare Act is not uniformly enforced. For instance, if case workers do not know a child is Indian, which is often, then they do not contact that child's tribe. Case workers are often very ignorant about the Act, even if they do know a child is Indian. Once notified, the tribe has the authority to intervene in that case. Indian children stay in foster care 7-10 years as compared to non-Indians who stay for 2 years. Thus, foster care for Indian children becomes essentially an adoption into a non-Indian home. Tribes can place children according to their own guidelines. The Ho-Chunk have guidelines that are based on their clan system, and this takes precedence over any state guidelines. Unfortunately, however, not all tribes have such guidelines which reduces the ability of a tribe to have a say in that child's future. The Indian Child Welfare Act confers many possibilities to tribes for asserting their sovereignty in this area, Porter argued, but it is important for them to put policies in place. Now, the Indian Child Welfare Act is under attack, particularly by the Christian Right. They argue that ICWA makes it more difficult for a child to be adopted and will thus encourage abortion.
It takes little intellectual exercise to comprehend that to kill a culture's future is to deprive it of its children, and to deprive those children of their cultural heritage. An organized effort towards this end were the boarding schools set up by the federal government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) beginning in the late 1800s. Permit children virtually no contact with their birth families or tribes, replace their culture with an alien one and religion, refuse them their native language, and ethnic cleansing smirks with the satisfaction of being veiled by the banner of Progress and Education--except that in the late 1800s there wasn't much of a reason to cloak such an agenda.
If the pleas were of necessary acculturation and assimilation for the benefit of the survival of the tribe in their "new world", then it was certainly understood that "survival" meant cultural colonialism. The American Indian's land nearly all secured, it was time to take possession of cultural heritage by alienating it from the children and placing it in museums. It was essential that the cultural heritage of the American Indian become the property of whites in order to divest American Indian children of any right to it, and essential that American Indian children become the property of whites in order to make that culture a relic divorced from the present and thus without any hope for the future.
Ensuing generations of American Indian children a little less close to their "savage" roots, the nuclear family of the 50s, 60s and 70s was ready to continue the practice of assimilation by the ultimate rescue, better than a Boarding School--the reception of Indian children into truly "American" households, where they might grow up with no inkling that they were even Indian. A branch grafted onto the family tree that was now magically Anglo through roots that stretched back to the European Old World, as if a seeking to kill those roots that ran thousands of years deep in "American" soil. How better to take complete possesssion of America than in this matter to make its Indian children European?
"Coming Home: The Lingering Effects of the Indian Adoption Project", a March 2002 "Children's Voice" article not only articulately presents the case of Sandy White Hawk, a woman adopted out of Rosebud at a young age, it explores the history of ethnic cleansing which led up to the realization of ICWA during a time when thousands of children were removed from families and tribes by missionaries or social workers and placed in foster homes or with non-Indian adoptive parents. These adoptions and fosterings gained full momentum in 1958 when the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) collaborated with the BIA to estaclish the Indian Adopton Project. The Child Welfare Project, founded in 1920, on the home page of its website states, it is the "oldest and largest national nonprofit organization developing and promoting policies and programs to protect America's children and strengthen America's families." Well, during the 1960s it "strengthened" American Indian families by channing funds to private member agencies, and public child welfare agencies, to place 395 Indian children with white adoptive families. (The CWLA did in 2001 apologize for its role in the Indian Adoption Project, stating it was well-intentioned but wrong.)
"Coming Home" reports that "A 1969 study by the Association on American Indian Affairs showed that roughly 25% to 35% of Indian children had been separated from their families. According to the First Nations Orphan Association, between 1941 and 1978, 68% of all Indian children were removed from their homes and placed in orphanages or white foster homes, or adopted into white families."
Thus ICWA, seeking to prevent the unwarranted removal of Indian children; ensure that, when they must be removed, they are placed in homes that reflect their culture; and preserve tribes. Although it is unevenly followed and enforced, it has solidified the power Indian families and tribes have over the placement of their children.
Problem is implementing ICWA in the face of prejudiced social workers and social workers who lack training in ICWA.
John Castillo, in a hearing with the Select Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundredth Congress, November 10, 1987, stated, "Private
attorneys are frequently ignorant of ICWA law or choose not to
follow it by instructing clients not to let the State social workers
know the Indian heritage of the child up for adoption. Children's service workers are sometimes prejudiced and inten-
tionally violate ICWA...ICWA training results in improved communication between Gov-
ernment workers and the local Indian community more appropri-
ate to the utilization of community services and in ICWA
compliance. Inadequate funding for legal services affects all aspects
of Indian child welfare."
Both money and training are needed, plus inquiry into how agencies have profitted and continue to profit from the displacement of Indian children.
Remedies are, however, late for the generations of children known as "Split Feathers",
the thousands plucked wholesale from their families and tribes and placed in transcultural adoption during the 50s, 60s and 70s.
All about ICWA Dec 20 2003 resolution
Black Hills Peoples News - The Worst Story We Heard (8 Nov 2002)
Advocates sought for Native kids;
COURT: Volunteers will look out for children taken from their parents (24 Oct 2002)
Many Indians ruled by Catch-22 Tim Giago, theday.com (29 Sept 2002)
Tribal Child and Family Protection Code
Tribal Juvenile Justice Code
ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act)
ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) summary.
Hearing before the Select Subcommittee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundredth Congress, November 10, 1987, Statement of John Castillo. Discusses some of the difficulties had with ICWA concerning prejudiced social workers or social workers who lack training in ICWA.
Native Indian Child Welfare Association.
North American Indian Legal Services page on NICWA.
Federal Statutory Provisions of ICWA can be accessed by typing "pub.l. 95-608" in the search box.
National Congress of American Indians Resolution #PSC-99-010, Support for the Establishment of a Task Force of Tribal Leaders to Evaluate Tribal Indian Child Welfare Act Amendments.
Split Feathers: Adult American Indians who were placed in Non-Indian Families as Children. This is an offsite link to the article which was originally published in NICWA's Pathways magazine. "Split Feathers" refers to children plucked wholesale from their natural families and transculturally placed through adoption.
Tribal Court CASA Project. The Tribal Court CASA Project was started in 1994 to assist in the development and enhancement of Tribal Court programs that provide volunteer advocacy for abused or neglected Native American children. The goal of National CASA is to increase the number of Indian children who are receiving culturally sensitive representation through indigenous CASA programs in Tribal Court proceedings. The Project is advised by the Tribal Court Advisory Committee, whose purpose is to review and consult with National CASA on the development of Tribal Court programs, the best methods to assist the Tribal Court programs, and the best methods for adapting CASA to meet the needs of Native American communities. See also http://www.tribal-institute.org/lists/casa.htm
home : mission statement : contact : site map : search : store : links
DLN coalition : DLN issues : DLN nation : related issues
Any reprints are under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law : See http://www.dlncoalition.org/fair_use.htm.