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Seminole Tribe returns as sponsor of NICWA conference

The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) is gearing up to host its second-ever virtual conference and the Seminole Tribe is once again the lead sponsor.

It’s the 39th conference overall, which brings together Natives involved in child advocacy issues. The 2021 theme is “Connectedness, Resilience, and Persistence.” It takes place April 11 to April 14.

“In the face of multiple and layered health, economic and social crises, we as Indigenous Peoples and communities have stayed connected, been resilient, and persisted,” the conference description reads. “With hope, and prepared by the ones who came before us, we act to bring ourselves, our communities, and our world back into balance. We don’t know when that will be, nor how rough the road will be as we pass through difficult times, but we do know that we will be stronger together, whether in person or virtually.”

Organizers said last year’s virtual event had 1,557 registrations in all and as many as 700 participants in any given session.

Keynote speakers this year with experience in child welfare systems range from high-level government officials to young people. Participants are expected to represent a cross-section of fields and interests including child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice service providers; legal professionals; students; advocates for children; and tribal, state, and federal

Amory Zschach, NICWA’s strategic communications manager, said the goals of the four-day conference are to:

• Highlight effective services.
• Report innovative child welfare practices.
• Share financing strategies.
• Showcase youth and family involvement.
• Create peer-to-peer networks.
• Learn the latest research.

“Our programming is reflective of the urgency to meet our mission through a virtual delivery,” Lindsay Early (Comanche), NICWA’s deputy director, said.

Early also acknowledged the Seminole Tribe’s support of the conference.

“[The Seminole Tribe’s] unrestricted donation powers our advocacy to protect Native children, keeping them connected to their family, community and culture,” she said. “[The] support helps us provide essential training to frontline workers who may not have been able to attend in previous years.”

A topic that is always discussed at the conference is the status of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which has faced court challenges in recent years. The 1978 law was put in place to prevent the separation of Native children from their parents and extended families by state child welfare and private adoption agencies.

Sarah Kastelic, NICWA’s executive director, said there hasn’t been much movement in recent months on what’s known as the Brackeen v. Bernhardt case.

“We’re still waiting on a decision from the Fifth Circuit en banc rehearing,” Kastelic said, noting that the latest arguments were completed in January 2020. “This is longer than we thought we’d wait for a ruling, but we’re choosing to interpret this as the court understanding the full weight of their decision and working hard to get the decision right.”

For conference information and registration options, go to

Jessiray Wheeler, a descendant of the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Hoh Tribe, created this artwork called “The Huddle.” (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