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A bill to establish a state-level Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in Montana was introduced this week.
As Montana Public Radio’s Ellis Juhlin reports, this bill would build on a federal version of the law.
The federal ICWA guides the removal and placement of Native American children in cases of abuse and neglect, prioritizing their placement into the homes of family members or other members of their tribe.
Kelly Driscoll is a public defender who practices family defense in Missoula County’s ICWA court.
“If you look at the handout you will see the marked decrease in the rates of Native children in state custody after the implementation of a statewide ICWA.”
If passed, Montana would join ten other states with local-level ICWA policies, which expand guidelines for child placement.
According to data from the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the number of Native American children in foster care is nearly three times higher than their proportion in the overall population.
Lance Four Star, a staffer with the Montana American Indian Caucus, spoke in support of the bill.
“Regardless of ICWA, House Bill 317 ensures Montana steps up to what’s in the best interest of Indian children.”
Lawmakers are considering a local policy to define the process for placing Native children in foster care as the federal ICWA is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Proponents of the bill said establishing a Montana version of the policy would maintain these protections for tribes in Montana and preserve tribal sovereignty, if the national policy is struck down.
Over 30 people spoke in support of the bill during its hearing and it has support from the eight tribes in Montana.
The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.
The Interior Department announced Thursday a $580 million allocation to fulfill Indian water right settlement claims.
The funds are from the Infrastructure Law and the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund.
Nearly $460 million will be allocated from the Infrastructure Law’s Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund for settlements dating prior to November 2021 – and $120 million from the Reclamation Water Settlement Fund, which was created by Congress in 2009 and receives mandatory funding annually from 2020 to 2029.
In a statement, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) said through the funding the Interior Department will uphold its trust responsibilities. She expressed her gratitude that tribes waiting for decades will finally get resources they’re owed.
There were 34 congressionally enacted Indian Water Rights settlements as of November 2021, when the Infrastructure Law was signed.
More than a dozen tribal projects are receiving settlement funds this year in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, and Montana.
The first ever tribal 988 summit in California is taking place Friday at the Morongo Casino.
State Rep. James Ramos (Serrano/Cahuilla/D-CA) is hosting the tribal summit to raise awareness of mental health services and suicide prevention efforts.
The federal 988 number was created last summer to help individuals who are in crisis.
People can use the number 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling, texting or chatting.
The number can also be used by those who are worried about someone they believe needs crisis support.
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline connects people with counseling, referrals, resources and other aid.
Tribal leaders and mental health professionals are among speakers at the summit who will share perspectives on providing culturally grounded suicide prevention approaches and build collaboration among 988 for tribal communities.
The Oklahoma City Indian Clinic is offering women’s self-defense education during Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
A series of classes for women ages 16 and older will be held this month.
The national observation is to raise awareness around violence and abusive behaviors among teens.
Health professionals say sometimes victims have no other choice than to resort to self-defense.
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