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NICWA wraps its first-ever virtual conference

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, participates in NICWA’s virtual version of its “Protecting Our Children” conference. (Courtesy NICWA)

The National Indian Child Welfare Association did what many organizations have had to do during the coronavirus pandemic – switch from hosting in-person conferences to hosting virtual ones.

NICWA did just that, hosting the first-ever virtual version of its “Protecting Our Children” conference March 30 to April 1. The Seminole Tribe of Florida was the host sponsor for the 38th incarnation of the event.

Organizers said there were 1,557 registrations in all and as many as 700 participants on any given call.

“As a staff, we had two-and-a-half weeks while working from our homes to transition our in-person conference to a virtual, amended version. That timeline was the greatest challenge,” Sarah Kastelic, NICWA executive director and conference organizer, said. “We worked hard to make [it] a meaningful experience for our stakeholders, who embraced it and ran with it.”

Sarah Kastelic. NICWA executive director and conference organizer.
(Courtesy NICWA)

The lineup included keynote presentations, sessions and a membership meeting – similar to what would have taken place in Denver, Colorado, where a four-day conference was previously set to happen.

Topics covered included child welfare and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), family “healing-to-wellness” courts, substance abuse, tribal-state child welfare collaborations, how to provide culturally-based programs, recruiting and engaging foster and adoptive families, intergenerational trauma and more.

The second day featured a keynote presentation by Cindy Blackstock (Gitxsan Nation), the executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

She was also 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.

Read more about day two in the Seminole Tribune here.

A roundup of the conference’s first day is available here.

Amory Zschach, NICWA strategic communications manager, and Betty Bryant, NICWA project coordinator, shared some of the comments participants wrote on the post-conference evaluation form. Here is an edited sample of those comments.

“It was a beautiful and empowering training overall. I gained so much from the ICWA court case session and active efforts information to intergenerational healing and the journey to healing.”

“On Monday I was lamenting about not being face-to-face in Denver. By Tuesday I was really getting into the citations and other helpful info from the audience. Then on Wednesday I became a full-fledged convert of the virtual conference format.”

“I am thoroughly impressed with the high quality and organization of this conference presentation and the lack of problems encountered, especially under such stressful and trying times and such short notice. Thank you.”

“I really appreciate the NICWA team’s swift efforts to convert the conference to a virtual platform rather than cancelling the conference. I enjoyed being able to hear from and engage with some of the presenters, especially since I am now working from home. It was really great to see other people virtually and be inspired by their work.”

“The entire conference was very informative and provided great insight. I enjoyed hearing from the youth [and] their role models. It’s awesome to see across the nation what’s happening and what impact people like the presenters and their partners are making. Thank you so much for all that you’re doing for our future generations.”

More information is at 

NICWA research assistant Alexis Contreras.
(Courtesy NICWA)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at