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NICWA addresses issues facing Native families

NICWA02HOLLYWOOD — Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), came to Hollywood to build awareness for the nonprofit association, which strives to protect the well-being of American Indian children and families and helps enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

Recent high-profile Indian adoption cases spurred the Oct. 22 event at Native Village.

“We gather to support the never-ending work NICWA does to keep families together,” said Ted Nelson, vice president of NICWA and event host. “Our children are meant to be with their parents, relatives or with a Tribal foster family.”

The Baby Veronica case illustrates that American Indian babies are still being adopted out of their Tribes with the help of dishonest adoption attorneys, Cross said. Although NICWA fought to keep Baby Veronica with her Cherokee father, Dusten Brown, in Oklahoma, she ultimately stayed with her adoptive, non-Native parents in South Carolina.

“One in four children was taken from a Tribal family before ICWA was passed in 1978,” said Cross, a member of the Seneca Nation. “We are under assault now by unscrupulous attorneys. The supply of adorable babies has dried up; Russia, Korea and Ireland are closed for adoptions. An Indian baby is worth about $100,000 to an adoption attorney.”

Cross hopes his public education campaign will inform people of their rights and demonstrate how ICWA keeps Native families together.

In addition, NICWA has asked the Department of Justice to investigate unethical attorneys working outside the guidelines of ICWA, a federal law that seeks to keep American Indian children with American Indian families.

NICWA also helps Tribes develop their own child welfare and mental health programs to ensure every American Indian child has access to community-based, culturally appropriate services to help them grow up safe, healthy and spiritually strong – free from abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation and substance abuse.

“The Seminole Tribe has been one of the stalwart supporters of our work,” Cross said. “We can do it because of the generosity of the Tribe.”

Cross acknowledged Nelson’s work as a champion for children in the community and thanked him for his seven years of service on the NICWA Board of Directors.

NICWA’s 32nd annual Protecting Our Children National American Indian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect will be held in Fort Lauderdale April 13-16.

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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