With November being Native American Heritage Month it is important to examine not only what we know about this history but also what we know about the policies affecting Native Americans.
Danielle mentioned the current disproportionality rates for Native children in the child welfare system in Part 1 of the blog. This disproportionality was evident in the 1970s, which eventually led to the creation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
Through the Indian Child Welfare Act the federal government has developed guidelines that states must follow when working with Native American children. The intent of Congress under the Act is to "protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families"(25 U.S.C. § 1902). The Act looks at preserving Native American culture, traditions, language, and families. Through this Act a child's tribe and family can be involved in the decision making and even refer the case back to their own tribal court.
Minnesota enacted the Indian Family Preservation Act in 1999 which created state guidelines for ICWA cases.
Here is a history of child welfare for Native children from the article Child Abuse and Neglect in Indian Country:
- In 1819, Congress passed the Civilization Fund Act, which provided grants to private agencies to develop programs to civilize the Indian. Institutions ran by the public and private agencies created boarding schools for Indian children. Once at these boarding schools, children were given Christian names and forbidden to speak their native language or practice their customs.
- In 1884, the "placing out" system placed Indian children on farms in the East and Midwest to learn values of work and the benefits of civilization.
- In 1953, Congress passed Public Law 280 to change the view of protecting Indian children to a humanitarian gesture. This law made Indian families eligible for state services like public assistance and child welfare services but it did not encourage partnering with Tribes.
- In 1959, the Child Welfare League of America and the Bureau of Indian Affairs initiated the Indian Adoption Project which led to children being adopted by non-Indian families.
- In the 1970's, 25% to 35% of Native American children removed from their home. Of those children removed from their home, 85% were placed with non-Indian families.
These statistics led to the creation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The emphasis ICWA places on taking all necessary measures to ensure an Indian child is placed with an Indian family when removed from the home is a vestige of these former practices. Historical trauma and the loss of language and cultural identity associated with Native boarding schools have serious implications for Native children in the child welfare system today. Current outcomes for Native children in these systems are deteriorating. Evaluations of ICWA's implementation practices are necessary and the increasing disparities deserve immediate attention from child welfare professionals and policymakers if any headway is to be made.
To learn more about Native American history click here.