A group of University of Arizona Native Nations Institute researchers has completed a comprehensive tribal child welfare code review, affirming that codes provide a unique way to balance traditional culture and contemporary needs and reaffirming the sovereign authority of nations.
The researchers explain in a new publication that prior to European settlement, U.S.-based tribes cared for children and supported families through informal child welfare practices. After colonization and federal policies were enacted to promote assimilation, those traditional tribal child welfare practices were dismissed.
However, the UA researchers note that over about the last 35 years, many tribal nations have established and implemented child welfare standards meant to protect member children and their families in culturally appropriate ways.
The researchers are: Mary Beth Jager (Citizen Potawatomi), a research analyst at the Native Nations Institute; Rachel Rose Starks (Zuni/Navajo), a senior researcher at the Native Nations Institute; Adrian "Addie" T. Smith, a government affairs staff attorney at the National Indian Child Welfare Association; and Miriam Jorgensen, research director of the Native Nations Institute and a research professor at the UA's Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy.
Working in partnership with the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the Native Nations Institute researchers reviewed 107 tribal child welfare codes from tribes across the U.S.
"The most obvious differences between tribal and state child welfare codes arise from the fact that tribes incorporate unique customs, tradition and culture into their codes," the research team said.
"Tribal child welfare codes are sophisticated governing documents intended to guide tribal and state child welfare practices, " the team said. "They are a reflection of tribes' inherent sovereignty over their citizens and cultural practices and values. Most importantly, they provide a safety net for tribes' most vulnerable citizens, providing needed protections for tribal children in need of care."