New state law ‘step forward in repairing wounds’

Politics

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Historically, generations of Tribal children have been ripped away from their communities, many of them never making it back. Now, newly approved legislation aims to help rewrite Oregon’s painful past of disbanding Tribal families by amending the state’s historic 2020 Oregon Indian Child Welfare Act (ORICWA). The recent changes approved by the legislature furthers efforts between the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) and Tribal Nations to protect and preserve Tribal families.

“For ORICWA to be able to focus on the preservation of Tribal culture, to protect Tribal children, and maintain family units and structure is so important …’Cause we know the devastating impact that happened to our Tribal people.” said Adam Becenti, ODHS Director of Tribal Affairs.

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Oregon is the seventh state to adopt a state-based legislation in alignment with the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Prior to the passage of the federal act, Tribal children across the nation were taken from their communities without connection to their families or culture.

“Tribal children were taken from their homes, forced to go to boarding schools away from their people and told to assimilate,” Becenti recalled. “They essentially had their identity beat out of them in terms of being able to speak their language, or practice their customs … all of that was taken away.”

Becenti told KOIN 6 News that ‘the boarding school era,’ colonialism, Indian removal, and Tribal termination/assimilation are just a few examples from a list of harmful government policies which have historically impacted Tribal people. Though Tribal communities are still reeling with the effects of those policies today, Becenti is hopeful “the recent changes to ORICWA will now enhance how Child Welfare engages with Tribal families and strengthen partnership with Oregon Tribal Nations.”

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Senate Bill 562A will advance the 2020 ORICWA by acknowledging customary adoptions, requiring ODHS take certain steps when releasing a Tribal child to the agency, and introducing contact agreements to ensure Tribal children maintain cultural connections.

Becenti believes the ‘long overdue’ changes may begin to repair historical wounds. “To embody ORICWA is really a way to restore the harm and those wounds that were open … And not to let it happen again,” added Becenti. “We have an opportunity not to repeat past mistakes. To not repeat past failings to our tribal people and begin to foster this Government-to-Government relationship.”

The approved bill is currently awaiting signature at the governor’s office.

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