The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) wrapped up the second day of its first-ever virtual conference March 31.
The Seminole Tribe is the host sponsor of the three-day event.
Day two featured a lineup of sessions and a keynote presentation by Cindy Blackstock (Gitxsan Nation), the executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
She would also be recognized by the organization with its yearly award.
Blackstock first gave her keynote presentation to hundreds of attendees who signed in online. It was titled: “Community Healing through Intergenerational Exchange: Living Our Cultural Values and Beliefs.”
Blackstock spoke about the work her organization does on behalf of Indigenous children in Canada and the world over. She said many of the issues tribes in the U.S. have with the child welfare system are similar to Canada’s.
“Poverty, poor housing and caregiver substance abuse are part of the reason First Nations kids are 12 times more likely to go into the foster care system,” Blackstock said, noting that Indigenous child welfare services are underfunded in Canada as they are in the U.S.
Blackstock and her colleagues use several different programs and methods – including the “Sprit Bear” – to engage Indigenous children and provide them home safety, health, education and self-esteem.
Blackstock, who is also a professor in the School of Social Work at McGill University in Montreal, is well known as a longtime activist for child welfare.
At the end of her presentation, she was presented with the “2020 Champion for Native Children” award. The award is given each year by NICWA to an individual or organization that has made “outstanding contributions” to Indigenous and Native children.
Jocelyn Formsma (Swampy Cree), a NICWA board member, spoke about Blackstock in a prerecorded video played for all the virtual attendees.
Formsma said Blackstock has had a profound effect on policy and program changes for hundreds of thousands of Indigenous and Native children.
“But more than that is the human within the champion,” Formsma said. “She is the kind of person who will help you move and put you up until your place is available; she is an amazing cook and will never forget a birthday or another significant date in your life and will acknowledge it; she will grieve with you in the deepest time when you need a friend; and will show up for the greatest accomplishments in your life.”
Formsma said Blackstock truly believes in the rights of Indian children and “the power children have to make systematic change in the world.”
Terry Cross, the founder and senior adviser of NICWA, officially presented Blackstock with the award, also via prerecorded video.
“This award is so well deserved; I am such an admirer of your work,” Cross said.
Cross displayed a plaque that would soon be sent to Blackstock. It read: “For outstanding leadership to protect Native children.”
“I feel so privileged that I’ve been able to work with others and particularly children to bring them a little bit closer to the dream our ancestors had for them: to be proud of who they are and carry the dream forward with them,” Blackstock said in accepting the award.
For more information on Blackstock’s work, go to fncaringsociety.com.
To read about day one of the NICWA conference in the Seminole Tribune, click here.