Tribes, state and county child welfare leaders meet to identify strategies to support American Indian and Alaska Native children and families

Members of five Tribes, staff from Colorado Department of Human Services, representatives from county departments of social/human services and nonprofit leaders met on June 29, 2017 in Pueblo for the first ever Indian Child Welfare Shared Learning Collaborative. The event created a safe space for participants to ask questions and learn from one another to better serve American Indian and Alaskan Native children and families.

“The work we do is challenging,” Regina Yazzie, ICWA program manager for the Navajo Nation, said during the welcoming remarks. “It has been 39 years since ICWA became law and we are still learning,” she added.

The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978 in an effort to support American Indian and Alaska Native families and preserve culture for young people who are in out-of-home-care. Newly revised State ICWA rules go into effect July 1, 2017, making the shared learning collaborative that much more relevant. To underscore the importance of ICWA, the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners proclaimed July 29, 2017 Indian Child Welfare Act Day.

Emceed by Ernest House Jr., executive director of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, the learning collaborative began with a blessing from Chairman Cuthair of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe followed by a panel of Tribal representatives answering questions about their Tribe’s ICWA process. Later, staff attorneys from the Colorado Court of Appeals and Jeannie Berzinskas, kinship and ICWA administrator for the Division of Child Welfare, answered questions about how caseworkers can implement ICWA in their daily practice. Afternoon breakout sessions included training on cultural humility and two-spirit children and youth.

 “There isn’t a lack of motivation,” Dr. Robert Werthwein, PhD, director of the Office of Children, Youth and Families, said during a large group discussion that he moderated. The group agreed, sharing their challenges as well as solutions. The power of the collaborative event is that attendees were able to meet face-to-face and develop ideas they are prepared to implement.

“This has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with our kids,” Walt Pourier, an artist, founder of the Stronghold Society and a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, said in his keynote address. “As you’re sitting here at your tables and sharing you voice, the biggest common denominator is our children. If we can learn to not be afraid of new ideas and sharing these big ideas then we can come together for this bigger purpose.”

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