An article released Monday by Laura Rena Murray of the Pulitzer Prize winning publication The Guardian examined the problems inflicted upon Native families by the foster system and highlighted the work of Janice Howe, a grandmother on the Crow Creek Reservation dedicated to honoring the Indian Child Welfare Act and keeping Native families in tact.
The important investigative piece contained a disturbing section that included the comments of Elizabeth Morris, chairwoman of the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare. In the article, Morris said her organization was formed to not only lobby against ICWA, but also connect prospective adoptive parents with lawyers that specialize “in circumventing ICWA” i.e. how to break federal law.
“(ICWA) is not about the kids, it’s really about maintaining tribal sovereignty,” Morris told The Guardian, going on to call ICWA a means of uplifting “tribal kingdoms and get[ting] federal money. They get to meet with the president…If they seriously wanted to protect children, they would have to send them off the rez and give them to white foster homes.”
The blatantly and offensively racist elements of this final comment is actually quite staggering, as Morris says white foster parents are better equipped to raise Native then their own families and relatives. It is this type of mentality that ICWA was formed to oppose in the first place.
In its communication, the Alliance stresses their positive relations with white people. A blurb on their official website’s homepage frames part of founder Roland John Morris’s great realization as the acceptance that the disparities faced by Natives today cannot be attributed to the cultural genocide inflicted upon them by white people across history.
Again, CANNOT be attributed to cultural genocide as detailed methodically in any credible history source.
The organization claims to be pro-family rather than pro-tribe, advocating for the well-being of individual children and downplaying the importance of cultural preservation. They are strongly opposed to ICWA, which they claim creates boundaries preventing people of indigenous descent from embracing different cultures and religions.
“Laws such as IWCA (sic) and VAWA are misguided. They infringe on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Association. They infringe on the rights of Birth Parents to raise their children Irish if they so choose–or the right of individuals to have their cases heard before County Courts,” reads a statement recounting viewpoints of the late Roland John Morris.
Eric Holder’s decision to strengthen ICWA guidelines in the face of South Dakota’s persistent and willful violations of the important law was referred to as “anti-family” in a CAICW blog post.
The blatantly racist and paternalistic nature of this position is outrageous. In actuality, it is the Alliance that favors severing the relationship between birth parents and children. Their position is particularly disconcerting given that this organization has the financial means to connect adoptive parents with lawyers while most Natives struggling to retain their parental rights can’t afford lawyers.
Again, this crystallizes how the deck is stacked against Indians in the courtroom scenario and why Natives are the most vulnerable population.
And don’t get it wrong. There is big money for private adoption homes that rake in federal funds because all Native children are categorized as special needs. Also, adoption attorneys make big time dollars throughout the entire process, and so we are left with a system that favors everyone, except Indian people struggling to maintain their rich cultural heritage, their history, their language and their way of life.
Testimony used to support the Christian Alliance’s cause is outright offensive when put into context. Take a blog post by supporter Johnston Moore, for example. Moore tells of his own experience as a longtime foster parent in Hollywood, California. In 2001, him and his wife took in two half-brothers whom they did not know were 1/16 Native American. Under ICWA, the adoption process was complicated. It took testimony from the biological mother herself for the state to approve the Moore family’s adoption, at which point the boys stayed with them for good.
If the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare were, in fact, working in the best interest of individual children–they would surely address cases such as the Mette rape scandal, where multiple Native children were continuously abused by their foster father. This terror went on for over a decade, enabled by the perpetrator’s wife whom remained silent.
In using best case scenarios such as the Moores’ to support their mission, the Christian Alliance smothers the true motivation behind legislation such as the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Stories such as Moore’s surely abound under our national system of foster care. However, inconveniences to foster parents such as Johnston Moore do not measure up to the systematic disparities which devastate a disturbingly large statistic of Native American families.
“Nobody’s pining for Indian country. Life on the rez isn’t Dances with Wolves. We’ve got to quit this fantasyland,” Elizabeth Morris told The Guardian. Ironically, the Christian Alliance representative seemingly made no effort to dismantle the fantastical perception of the American foster care system which her organization holds so dearly.
The foster care system in America is a mess, with most of those who enter into it susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, sex trafficking and other societal ills. The San Jose Mercury News just released an in depth report on the foster care system in California, where doctors were found to be overmedicating children to astonishing degrees as both a means to subdue emotionally disturbed children and enrich pharmaceutical purveyors.
Every effort should be made to modify acts such as ICWA in order to best serve the children they are meant to protect. There are undoubtedly problems with the current ways in which the foster system works with Natives. However, jumping to put the blame on tribes themselves is twisted. While social problems on reservations undoubtedly exist, the Lakota People’s Law Project is working hard to address those issues, to empower tribes to begin to heal and renew their cultures so they can participate more robustly in this democracy and determine their own prosperity.
The answer is not to rip children from their mothers and fathers and place them in a corrupt and predatory foster care system that cares little for them beyond what they can garner in federal assistance dollars. Elizabeth Morris should be ashamed of herself to represent such an untoward, seedy and morally bankrupt organization that seeks to reinforce the systemic injustice that should and will be eradicated.