ND Considers Child Placement Protections for Tribal Families
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
A North Dakota Senate committee hears a bill this week which would enshrine protections for Native American children who have to be placed in foster or adoptive homes.
The proposal comes ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected later this year involving the long-standing Indian Child Welfare Act. It sets standards for giving preference to extended family or tribal members.
Rep. Jayme Davis, D-Rolette, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the bill's sponsor, said North Dakota needs to act in case the court overturns the federal law, creating dilemmas for Native families and the state agencies handling their cases.
"My worry is that the agencies will be asking, 'Well, what do we do now?' And I don't want to have to wait two years to be able to codify anything again," Davis emphasized.
She is referring to North Dakota's legislative timeline, with regular sessions held every other year. There is no stated opposition to Davis' bill, but a lot of language was removed before it cleared the House. She hopes the Senate advances the full plan, including a study of the issue. Several other states have taken similar action.
Sharnell Seaboy, field organizer for the group North Dakota Native Vote, said removing a Native child from their home and placing them with a non-Native family can be a traumatic experience with lasting impacts, because they are no longer surrounded by their cultural and spiritual traditions.
"You are lost, and you're trying to figure out where you belong, or you know, trying to figure out where you come from," Seaboy explained.
Seaboy noted on a personal level, federal law benefited her family because she was asked to become a caregiver for a newborn last fall.
"I feel because of ICWA, they went deeper down the family tree and came across me," Seaboy noted. "Now I have my little guy, and he's just a little blessing."
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