Legislative Actions

On Child Welfare, Indians Should Choose Sovereignty 

Legislators need to pass a law giving responsibility of Indian matters to Indians.

A bill before the New Mexico legislature seeks to give Indian tribes jurisdiction in cases of children being removed from the home by the state.

It’s a 164-page bill filled with hundreds of bureaucratic if-then scenarios that should be voted down and replaced with a one-sentence solution:

“Because every Indian tribe is a sovereign nation in and of itself, because sovereignty guarantees the freedom to create its own child welfare system, and because the children of Indian tribes are the responsibility of the tribe, be it resolved that the State of New Mexico, not being a sovereign nation, shall not take any Indian child into its custody.”

—NM HB135, IFPA, Final

Or, for brevity’s sake, “Get your feet off my land and your hands off my children.”

The “problem” being addressed in this bill is the same problem addressed at the federal level, through the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which governs the state’s removal of Indian children from their families — which is that a disproportionate number of Indian children are removed from their parents.

The question is why.

According to a January 2021 study on the “Disproportionality and Race Equity in Child Welfare,” “Black children were 13.71% of the population, yet 22.75% of children in foster care.”

That’s a 66% higher rate of foster care than its representative population. For Whites it’s -14%.

For Indians it’s 182%.

January 2021 study on the “Disproportionality and Race Equity in Child Welfare

The state takes significantly more children Indians than any other racial group. Considering that Native Americans are not filing false imprisonment lawsuits in record numbers and that the bill being proposed is not a reform of police or child protective services protocols, the assumption is that the state is taking these children on merit — because there is more domestic violence and child welfare concerns than in other racial households.

This is a very off-limits, politically incorrect topic, but the problem has persisted for decades, and the bill being proposed in the New Mexico legislature does nothing to resolve it.

In fact, it appears little more than a money grab.

The bill calls for “identifying and establishing” various forms of additional welfare, from “appropriate services” to “community resources” that include “housing, financial assistance, transportation, mental health services, health care, substance abuse prevention and treatment and peer support services.” 

It is unclear why legislators believe taking taxpayer money from one sovereign nation and given to another will really work this time.

In The Albuquerque Journal Monday, Democrat legislator (and IFPA bill sponsor) Georgene Louis begins her opinion column — titled, “Native communities need their children” — listing her intersectionality credentials: “As a Native American woman, I know the importance of family….”

It’s an oddly unspecific column that fails to address the elephant in the room, which is, If being Native and female is key to knowing the importance of family, why are Native females having their children removed by the state at a disproportionate rate compared to other races?

Louis advocates for her bill with a single data point, nearly a half-century old, in declaring that “approximately 80% of Native American families living on reservations lost at least one child to the foster care system.” 

“Together, our community is working to pass this legislation during the session. IFPA recognizes the sovereign rights of the 23 tribes of New Mexico and their self-determination in preserving their cultural lineage through their children.”

—Georgene Louis, Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 7, 2022

No nation should bend the knee to beg for the free exercise of its sovereignty. You either possess and exercise “supreme political power” over your people, or you don’t. 

The solution here is a law that requires state law enforcement officers to notify applicable tribes of child welfare cases. Then leave.

Or, if Indians want to live outside of the poverty and violent crime, including rape and murder, that is pervasive within their tribal reservations, then they should adhere to the laws already on the books in the communities they choose to live.

Sovereignty offers the freedom to create your own rules for handling problems within your community, and doing so with your own funding. Equality means the universal application of laws regardless of race.

If Indians are being targeted by the state because child welfare cases are so much higher among Indian families, the problem is either their responsibility, or it should be dealt with in the same way child abuse is dealt with among White, Blacks, Hispanic, and Asian families.

Indians should not get it both ways.

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