As a Native American woman, I know the importance of family and community support firsthand. I became a young mother when I was a sophomore in high school. My incredible intergenerational family offered me support and helped me raise my daughter so I could finish high school then complete my bachelor’s and law degrees. Native communities are families, and we have supported each other for generations. As a state legislator, I am proud to carry the critical needs of our tribes, nations, and pueblos to the New Mexico capitol.
During this 2022 legislative session, I am working to pass House Bill 135, the Indian Family Protection Act (IFPA), to ensure Native American families in New Mexico have better rights within the child welfare system. Tribal leaders, tribal child welfare workers, advocates, and impacted families have come together to craft IFPA. 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.
The need for IFPA couldn’t be more clear. Studies conducted in the 1970s found that more than one in four Indian children nationwide were removed from their homes and communities by state child welfare systems and private adoption agencies. Before 1978, approximately 80% of Native American families living on reservations lost at least one child to the foster care system.
After years of work by impacted families, advocates, and others, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed in 1978. Federal ICWA decreased rates of forced family separations and mandated that states honor the sovereignty of Indian nations.
ICWA is intended to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.” It was created to address the long-standing and egregious removal practices that specifically targeted our Native children and to protect the well-being of Native children by upholding family integrity and stability.
Though states often did not fully follow through on the implementation of ICWA, federal ICWA provided critical minimum standards for Native children, families, and tribes in the child welfare system.
Yet today, individual parties and states like Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana are bringing cases to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge and even dismantle ICWA. Other states, including New Mexico, are deeply concerned and unsure about the future of federal ICWA, and they are moving to create protections that include and go beyond federal law.
Advocates in our communities throughout New Mexico want to ensure that we are taking this opportunity to not only enact the minimal protections of ICWA but also expand them and create a law that will work for our families.
Key to IFPA in New Mexico and mandates to CYFD will include: immediately communicating with tribes when the state receives an investigation on an Indian family, a focus on placing Indian children with their relatives, and requiring various support services connecting children to their tribal communities and traditional teachings.
Native children need their communities. Native communities need their children. New Mexico must act to pass the New Mexico Indian Family Protection Act today. Our culture, traditions, and our very lives depend on it.
Georgene Louis is a state representative in House District 26.