Happy Birthday, Lucille!

It’s a summer morning, less than a week before her 75th birthday, and Lucille Echohawk is driving to a training about the Family First Act hosted by Casey Family Programs. “I thought I knew a lot, but there is still so much I don’t know,” she says. After a career dedicated to serving American Indian children and families, Lucille is still learning and she is still going strong. We asked Lucille to reflect on what she’s accomplished and where child welfare is going.

Looking back, what are the accomplishments you’re most proud of?

“It’s one thing to run around telling people what they ought to be doing. It’s another thing to walk the talk. When I first moved to Denver, I made a promise to myself to get involved in my community and that I would start walking the talk better. I chaired the board of the Denver Indian Center and learned about the native nonprofit sector. I was also challenged by a good friend, who happened to be my dentist, in that walk-your-talk way to be a foster parent. I was a foster-to-adopt parent, and that child taught me everything I know about the child welfare system, because we lived it. She made such a difference in my life and she was such a wonderful teacher.

“Later, opportunities arose and one of them was connecting with three trustees from Casey Family Programs. They were in process figuring out what more they could be doing with Tribal communities in child welfare. I got them interested in urban native child welfare.

“We did a series of focus groups in the metro area to talk about Indian child welfare systems and how they were managed, or not. It was good timing and Casey stepped up and they sponsored a six-month planning process and what grew out of that was a commitment from those gathered from major native nonprofit in the areas. We agreed that rather than a presence in an existing organization, we should found another nonprofit. That was the genesis of the Denver Indian Family Resource Center (DIFRC).

“Casey Family Programs were in a position to really do something new so they were a very strong partner with the community here in Denver. I will always be grateful to them. 

“I’ve tried to stay connected to DIFRC as a community supporter and donor.  For two years I was the executive director, and now I’m back as a volunteer interim executive director.”

What is happening now that makes you hopeful about child welfare?

“I’m very encouraged that after all these years with the Indian Child Welfare Act, which passed in 1978, that it was just three years ago that the Bureau of Indian Affairs published guidelines. It never had any teeth before and states could ignore it. And, a year later, it now has regulations.

“Here in Colorado, I am impressed that the state has embraced the importance of the act. The regulations were an opportunity to step up and do more to comply with the act. We see it as the gold standard for all of child welfare. It’s very gratifying to not be pushing this boulder up a hill alone. We’re doing this together. I hate the butting of heads and admire people who can work together.  

“It makes me proud that two of six ICWA courts in the country are here in Colorado. The courts have a specific focus on that act and I’m happy to be a part of their work groups. I’m also helping think through finding native foster families and what training they need. I am too old now to be a foster parent, but I am in the last stages of becoming a respite provider.

“I think there are a lot of positive things happening. I want to do what I can as an individual to support those people making a difference.”

You can help Lucille and DIFRC

Lucille Echohawk turns 75 on August 6th and DIFRC is celebrating the occasion to honor her and the efforts of the staff and many friends who have made DIFRC a beacon for vulnerable children and their families.

Join DIFRC to affirm family and celebrate Lucille’s birthday on August 6, 2018 from 6-8 pm at History Colorado. In lieu of gifts, consider a donation to DIFRC.

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