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Keeping Native Children Connected

Document Author: Prepared by Kimberly Martus, J.D., Director, Alaska Tribal CASA Program, and Diane Payne, Children's Justice Specialist, Tribal Law & Policy Institute, updated, May 2002
Date Posted: 6/02

The long-term well being of Native children is undeniably related to their sense of identity as Natives. Childhood paves the way to adult identity...Native children are Natives forever. Thus, it is critical that a determination of what is in "the best interest" of Native children address their needs as children as well as development of positive relationships with Native individuals and communities that will inevitably be a part of their future lifeways. The following ideas are collected from several workshop presentations we have done, but they are not exhaustive. Hopefully, these will provide guidance as you seek to advocate for a Native child.

Some Suggestions For Keeping Native Children Connected

  • Develop a relationship with the child's parents: learn about their foods, religious beliefs and practices, about family cultural activity;
  • Develop relationships with other adult Native people who can provide information about Native culture generally and, preferably, about the child's culture;
  • Socialize with Native families - most cultural and social activities in Native communities are intended for family participation (all ages are welcome);
  • Ask Tribal workers to assist with the child's needs, whether it be services or social interactions;
  • Learn about the child's family and community history and make information available to the child's caretakers, service providers, and keep important information for the child to have when older (i.e. Tribal newsletters, articles about elders, family members and Tribal issues);
  • Learn about child's cultural practices and belief systems through videos or articles recommended by the National Indian Child Welfare Association and Tribal workers (do not assume all "historical" information is accurate - check with a reputable source recommended by Tribe or Tribal organizations);
  • Make an effort to become connected to the child's Tribe - get on mailing list for events, ask for appropriate event to become acquainted, meet with Tribal workers coming through town, etc. (in-person contact is always the best!);
  • Learn about child's entitlements through the Tribe, i.e. make sure child gets enrolled or listed as a Tribal member; gather information about the child's ancestry, etc.;
  • Develop resources for child within the community - school programs for Natives (Indian Education & JOM), dance/drum groups, Native Youth Olympics, Native church, Native basketball team, culture camps, Native youth leadership events, Native Head Start, etc.
  • Use Tribal Court to handle adoptions.

Additions made at the National CASA conference in San Diego, April 2002:

  • See if there is a Tribal college in your area and find out what is offered regarding Tribal culture and history; see what instructors are used at the local college on these issues and invite them to do a presentation at your CASA or Foster Parent training sessions.
  • Ask the Tribe for, or contact a local museum or historical society for videos on Tribal history and language.
  • Contact the local museum (near the child's Tribe) about artists, storytellers and other culture-bearers that you could put in touch with the child. Encourage foster parents to bring child to see these people at performances or exhibits.
  • Tribal Head Start and Infant Learning Programs often have cultural information and teaching tools that they will share with foster parents and CASAs.
  • High Schools often have "culture clubs" where you may locate a "big brother or big sister" for the Native child, or you may find out about events that it would benefit the child to attend.
  • Indian Health Service funded clinics and hospitals have information about the Tribal heritage of beneficiaries.
  • To identify appropriate cultural events for the child and foster parents to attend, ask if there is a Tribal non-profit agency in the area that provides job training, social services, elder services or other consumer-type programs and get on their mailing list.
  • Make sure court orders preserve the child's right to receive per capita payments, inherit land or other Tribal benefits.

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
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