Efforts are underway to establish an NM State Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in the 2022 legislative session

The Federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was signed into law in 1978 in response to high numbers of Indian children being removed from their families & communities at alarming rates. 

As threats to Federal ICWA loom, New Mexico has the opportunity to safeguard and expand upon important protections for Indian children and families.

The New Mexico Tribal Indian Child Welfare Consortium (NMTIC), New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department (NM CYFD), the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (CSVANW), and Bold Futures have formed a work group to draft and pass this critical legislation.

How are we leading the work?

Tribal leaders, Tribal ICWA workers, advocates and other stakeholders have come together to expand upon federal ICWA in the 2022 New Mexico Legislative Session. 

Our work group is led by and centers the participation of tribal nations by actively seeking their representation and engagement throughout the process. This includes facilitated meetings where we build strategy and actively seek tribal expertise. 

Part of the process centered on the expertise of members of the New Mexico Tribal Indian Child Welfare Consortium (NMTIC); NMTIC includes tribal ICWA Social Workers representing 23 tribes in NM. NMTIC carries significant on-the-ground expertise working on ICWA cases and knowledge of specific issues related to each tribe. This is of immense value and is incredibly important to the process of determining what needs to be addressed in the statewide ICWA.

What is ICWA?

The Federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was signed into law in 1978 in response to high numbers of Indian children being removed from their families & communities at alarming rates.

Established “to protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture” (25 U.S.C. §§ 1902)

The law protects American Indian and Alaska Native children in state child welfare systems and helps them remain connected to their families, cultures, and communities.

ICWA also:

  • Creates minimum protections for Indian children in the child welfare system
  • Specifically addresses system abuses directed at American Indian children
  • Promotes heightened cultural considerations as well as the preservation of the American Indian tribes

Why Establish an NM State ICWA?

NM State ICWA expands upon the provisions and protections of the federal ICWA by addressing inconsistencies and ambiguous language in dealing with Indigenous children in our state. The bill establishes coordinated statewide efforts between Tribal nations and other essential stakeholders to provide care, protection and promotion of cultural wellbeing for the Indian Tribal and Pueblo children and families. Recent legal challenges to federal ICWA have put into question the unique political status of Indian Tribal nations, their sovereignty and self-determination. State ICWA supports the 23 sovereign nations’ inherent right to exert their powers in matters dealing with their tribal members.

Timeline

Context:

Pre Bill Time Period: 

  • 2015: New Mexico Tribal Indian Child Welfare Consortium (NMTIC) founded. 

    NMTIC is a consortium comprising 20 Pueblos, 2 Apache Nations and Ramah Navajo.  In their strategic plan, NMTIC identified the creation of a NM state ICWA bill as a key goal. 

  • 2015: New Mexico Partners (NM Partners) was established. NM Partners is comprised of Navajo Nation Department of Social Services/ICWA, NMTIC, Administrative Office of the Courts/ICWA Court, New Mexico Tribal/State Judicial Consortium, the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department (NM CYFD), the Corrine Wolfe Children’s Law Center and is hosted by Casey Family Programs Indian Child Welfare Program. In their strategic plan, NM identified the creation of a NM state ICWA bill as a key goal. 

  • 2019:  NM CYFD established a specialized ICWA Unit & 2nd Judicial District established ICWA Court

Formation of 2021 SICWA Bill

  • July 2020:  A core group of services providers and advocates including:  core group Navajo Nation ICWA, NMTIC, The Coalition to Stop Violence against Native Women (CSVANW), Bold Futures NM, and NM CYFD gather and begin to start working on NM State ICWA legislation. 
  • 2020: Throughout the summer, core group members began conversations with additional stakeholders including: Tribal Governors and Presidents, Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council,All Pueblo Council of Governors,  NM Tribal State Judicial Consortium (TSJC) NM Partners
  • Dec/Jan 2020: NM CYFD hosted formal consultation on NM state ICWA with tribal leaders.
  • January 28, 2021 SICWA legislation was  filed and identified as House Bill 209 (HB 209).  HB209 was assigned to two (2) House committees: State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs; and Health and Human Services.
  • February 1, 2021 SICWA legislation was filed and identified as Senate Bill 278. Senate Bill 278 was assigned to three (3) Senate committees: Indian, Rural and Cultural Affairs; Judiciary; and Finance.
  • January 28, 2021 Secretary Blalock sent a letter to all Tribal Governors and Presidents regarding HB209.
  • February 8, 2021 Navajo Nation submitted  written comments to NM CYFD on HB209.
  • February 8, 2021 HB209 was heard in its first House committee. The bill passed unanimously. Governor Talachy and former Governor Vigil served as experts and several tribes sent representatives to share support for the bill in public comment. There were no tribes in opposition.
  • February 9, 2021 SB 278 was heard in its first Senate committee with amendments. Both the amendments and the bill passed unanimously. Governor Talachy and former Governor Vigil served as experts and several tribes sent representatives to share support for their bill in public comment. There were no tribes in opposition. 
  • February 23, 2021 a committee substitute for HB209 was filed based on requested changes from Navajo Nation, Laguna Pueblo, points raised in the Fiscal Impact Report, and feedback from other tribal representatives and stakeholders.
  • February 25, 2021 the committee substitute, materials explaining changes, updates on the bills, and more were shared with all tribal leaders and additional representatives. 
  • February 26, 2021, the committee substitute for HB209 was passed unanimously out of committee.

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