The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” takes on a special meaning for Cherokee kids. Making sure young Cherokees grow up safe, healthy and connected to their family, history and culture is a job for our whole tribe. We take this responsibility especially seriously because of the tragic history of efforts to separate Cherokees and other Native children from their family and tribe.
The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed by the U.S. Congress 43 years ago to help put an end to that dark era. ICWA is designed to protect Native children from being separated from their parents, extended families and communities by state child welfare and private adoption agencies. In many ways, it has been an exemplary law that has saved many Native children from becoming disconnected from their culture.
Yet today we still have to fight these battles for our Cherokee children. ICWA has been one of the most challenged pieces of legislation for Native American people. It is often misunderstood by non-Native courts. When that happens, it undermines our tribal sovereignty, but more importantly, it can be devastating to Native children and families. And it can sometimes frighten off potential foster or adoptive parents.
On any given day, Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare staff works cases for an average of 1,450 children. Nearly half of those children are within our 14-county reservation. We are able to provide for many of them at the 74 Cherokee Nation foster homes currently in place. Most of these homes are temporary, and reunification with the child’s biological family is almost always the desired outcome.
Unfortunately, more foster homes are still desperately needed. In Oklahoma, Cherokee children have consistently represented about 10% of the state’s foster population for the past five years. We need people willing to embrace our Cherokee values by fostering our children and aiding in family reunification.
May is National Foster Care Month, and this year’s theme is “Support the child, support the family.” Cherokee Nation First Lady January Hoskin and I would add to that important statement, “support the tribe.” When you foster a child, you lend crucial support to that child and their family, and you also help to keep our tribe intact in the long run.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded just how important families are for mental and physical well-being. We are also reminded how our tribal people can unite to help each other in a crisis. Cherokee children in need of safe and loving homes also present a crisis, but it is a crisis we hold the power to solve.
When Cherokee children and families have the support of the community and our tribe, they are better prepared for long-term success. As Cherokee people, we have raised our children together since time immemorial. Let’s not stray from this Cherokee way of life. Instead, let us live the Cherokee values of community, family and culture.
To find parent resources and learn more about how you can become a foster parent or support Cherokee kids in need, visit https://icw.cherokee.org/ or call (918) 458-6900.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.