Indian Child Welfare Act Conference to be held Feb. 16

December 22, 2021

Renowned Native American repatriation and child welfare advocate Sandy White Hawk will be the keynote speaker at the tenth annual Indian Child Welfare Act Conference, which will be held Feb. 16, 2022, at the Silver Star Convention Center in Choctaw, Mississippi.

Department of Child Protection Services workers deliver Thanksgiving meals

The opening ceremony is set for 8:30 a.m. Chief Cyrus Ben of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will speak at 9:15 a.m. Ms. White Hawk will speak at 9:30 a.m.

The annual conference began as an effort to educate state judges and social workers on requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA. Tribal leaders, attorneys, judges, social workers and other professionals who deal with Native American children in a Youth Court setting are expected to attend the conference, which is hosted annually by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

A recurring theme of ICWA conferences is educating non-Indians about the intergenerational trauma caused by a history of removal of Native American children from tribal families. White Hawk lived that adoption ordeal. She was removed from her Sicangu Lakota relatives in South Dakota and placed with white missionaries more than 400 miles from the reservation when she was 18 months old. She grew up in Wisconsin with no connections to her tribal heritage.

Department of Child Protection Services workers deliver Thanksgiving meals

Ms. White Hawk is founder and Director of First Nations Repatriation Institute. Her personal journey, and her work in helping others like her to find their way back to their tribal roots, is the subject of the documentary “Blood Memory.” The film highlights her efforts to help others separated from the community as children to reconnect with their people, culture, traditions and ceremonies to begin healing. The title “Blood Memory” comes from the concept that experiences of one generation are passed to the next.

Conference sessions are scheduled throughout the day, including an update on tribal law, how social workers can learn to identify potential tribal interests, and a panel presentation exploring tribal culture. Panelists include Harold “Doc” Comby, Deputy Director of Internal Operations for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; Judge Michelle Brown-Yazzie, Chief Judge for the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico; and Justice Cheryl Demmert Fairbanks, Interim Co-Director for the UNM Native American Budget and Policy Institute.

ICWA sets out federal requirements regarding removal and placement of Native American children in foster or adoptive homes. The U.S. Congress in 1978 set requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving any Native American child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.

The ICWA Conference is a collaborative effort with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Administrative Office of Courts, the Children’s Bureau, the Mississippi Judicial College and the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services.

Conference seating is limited and registration is required. Here is a link to registration: