At 45, Indian Child Welfare Act sets standard for kinship care

This year marks 45 years since the passage of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

The law which was upheld earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court works to keep Native American children close to their traditions and tribal cultures.

Lucille Echohawk leads the Denver Indian Family Resource Center – founded to address the overrepresentation of American Indian children in the child welfare system.

“Sadly, there continues to be a lot of results of trauma from the long history of very poor federal policy as relates to the Native people in this country,” said Echohawk.

Policies deliberately aimed to separate Native American families from each other and their tribal nations.

“Terrible, terrible things came about through that whole period of history and we’re still feeling the trauma from that. It’s intergenerational,” she added.

Dusty Volkel

In March, Echohawk was honored at WorldDenver’s International Women’s Day for her decades of work to build better futures for indigenous children.

She says the measures laid out in the Indian Child Welfare Act have become the gold standard of child welfare, adding, “Kinship care has become very, very prevalent as a child welfare practice across the country and at the tribal level they’ve been practicing all through history.”

Colorado Senate Democrats

In May, Gov. Jared Polis codified the Indian Child Welfare Act into Colorado law. 

There was a moment in the lead up that especially touched Echohawk.

“Seeing the chairman of the Southern Ute tribe step up and testify about the importance of codifying ICWA into Colorado law, both on the Senate and the House side was really truly amazing,” she said. 

Chairman Melvin Baker of the Southern Ute says children represent a link to the past and the promise for preserving Native cultures.

The Southern Ute has its own social services division, so when Chairman Baker was testifying at the capitol he was doing so to support all the children of other tribes.   

An allyship that meant a lot to the Native community. 

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