Tribal leaders support federal legislation aimed at helping Indigenous families and children
A bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives geared toward helping Indigenous children and families by providing tribal nations with the tools and resources they need to treat, prevent, investigate, and prosecute instances of family violence, child abuse, and child neglect.
These resources would be provided through the Native American Child Protection Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. It has been assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
“For far too long, Native families across our state have dealt with the impacts of this growing endemic of child abuse,” Gallego said during a Feb. 17 press conference on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
“They need assistance from the federal government,” Gallego said, and in many cases, it is simply providing the proper resources.
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Gallego said his bill builds off funding spearheaded by the late U.S. Sen. John McCain in 1990: the Indian Child Protection Act and the Family Violence Prevention Act.
“The programs in this bill were first passed years ago, part of a promise from the U.S. government to answer for the tragedy and abuse that occurred in federally-run Native boarding schools,” Gallego said. But the programs were never fully funded when McCain’s bill passed, and Congress has not reauthorized them.
Gallego said it is commonly heard across Indian Country when legislation gets passed, but they’re rarely fully funded.
“It’s unacceptable, and we do need to do better,” Galileo said. “This is a start to getting our tribal governments the assistance they need.”
Gallego said that states usually fund many family and child services programs. Still, tribal governments tend not to receive that type of funding, so they end up having to fulfill that gap themselves.
When the federal government does not step in and provide funding, Gallego said many tribes are left trying to scrape together whatever programs they can.
Through the Native American Child Protection Act, Gallego said this is the federal government’s way of stepping in and helping these tribal nations.
He said tribal communities and tribal families had faced trauma for generations, and they need access to services that will hopefully break this cycle.
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier shared his support for the bill pointing out how one key provision of the legislation encourages culturally appropriate treatment.
“This allows tribes to design and implement services that are tailored to their specific communities,” he said. “We are all diverse communities with unique needs.”
The bill calls for culturally appropriate treatment, which encourages using culturally relevant programs that respond to the unique traditions, cultural values, and customs of tribal nations.
Another big way that assistance will come is through developing a National Indian Child Resources and Family Services Center. The bill calls for its creation to provide technical assistance and training to tribes, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations.
Gallego said this is the first time a national resource center would be developed to help all the tribes across the U.S., and it will work on developing the best practices for tools and resources needed to help Indian Country.
“A lot of what we know to do with child abuse is very much from a perspective of Anglo families,” Gallego said, noting those methods of addressing the issue may not necessarily work in Indian Country.
“We have to adapt to them to make sure that we actually have best practices that are culturally competent,” Gallego added.
The bill will require the development of model intergovernmental agreements between tribes and states to prevent, investigate, treat, and prosecute family violence.
It also aims to revise the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Program to allow funding to be used for additional activities, such as operational costs for child protective services.
Gallego said they also made sure that they included urban Indian organizations as eligible entities because more Indigenous people live in urban areas than on tribal lands and encouraged culturally appropriate treatment services and programs.
“Community-based, culturally appropriate services are essential to the overall well-being of American Indian and Alaska Native children, youth, families, and their communities,” said Sarah Kastelic, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. “Our children and families deserve the same opportunities to grow up healthy and strong as other populations. This legislation will help close the gap in access to funding and services.”
Colorado River Indian Tribal Chairwoman Amelia Flores voiced her support for the bill, noting that, as a tribal leader, one of her important responsibilities is to protect the children in their tribe and give them all the opportunities to succeed.
“Unfortunately, there is a long history of Native children being abused by their caregivers,” she said.
Flores said that, in some cases, it was directly caused by the U.S. government in the form of boarding schools. In others, it is in the families’ homes, she said, resulting from centuries of generational trauma.
“When there is abuse in a community, you can’t begin to heal until you stop the abuse,” she said. Healing is not only for children but also for adults who may be victims themselves of generations of trauma and abuse.
When the Indian Child Protection Act and the Family Violence Prevention Act were initially passed, Flores said it was in response to the heartbreaking findings of widespread child abuse at schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“Unfortunately, the programs that were intended to be created in this bill to protect children were never fully implemented or executed,” Flores said. “Just another broken promise.”
Flores said she hopes the bill will provide tribal nations with the resources they need to investigate and address every instance of potential child abuse and neglect.
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