Phyllis Anderson

Phyllis Anderson

The seventh annual Indian Child Welfare Act Conference is scheduled Thursday at the Silver Star Convention Center at Choctaw.

Tribal leaders and as many as 200 attorneys, judges, social workers and other professionals who deal with Native American children in a youth court setting are expected to attend the conference.

The 8:30 a.m. opening ceremony will include the national anthem sung in the Choctaw language, a hoop dancer and drummers. Chief Phyllis J. Anderson of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services Director Dr. David Chandler are scheduled to speak at 9 a.m.

Sheldon Spotted Elk, a director in the Indian Child Welfare Unit at Casey Family Programs in Denver, Colorado, will give the keynote address at 9:15 a.m. Spotted Elk, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and an attorney, is a frequent speaker about ICWA regulations and the rights of Indian Children. Before joining Casey Family Programs, Spotted Elk was a guardian ad litem representing best interests of children in matters for the Ute Indian Tribal Court in Utah, and was chief of staff for the Ute Indian Tribe.

Casey Family Programs is the nation's largest private foundation focused on foster care and improving the child welfare system.

The annual conference began as an effort to educate state judges and social workers on the requirements of ICWA. The U.S. Congress in 1978 set requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving any Native American child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe. ICWA sets out federal requirements regarding removal and placement of Native American children in foster or adoptive homes.

Spotted Elk, writing in an online publication of the American Bar Association Children’s Rights Litigation Section in March, explained that ICWA forbids removal a child from the natural family “except when there is no alternative to safely keep the child in the home. When a removal does occur, ICWA mandates looking first to relatives and kin for placement, rather than stranger foster care ... There is no dispute an abusive environment is harmful to child development. However, those children on the edge of being removed may be served as a matter of a child’s right through family preservation efforts rather than child protection removal ... An Indian child has a right to culture, tribal citizenship, and identity, and as an extension, a right to community.”

Sessions are scheduled throughout the day, with the last slated for 4 p.m., with a presentation exploring tribal culture. Speakers for that session include Harold “Doc” Comby, deputy director of internal operations for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians; Vice Chief and former Tribal Chief Judge Hilda Nickey; and Tribal Director of Public Information Kendall Grisham.

The ICWA Conference is a collaborative effort among the Tribal Courts of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, the Attorney General’s Office of the Choctaw Tribe, the Children’s Bureau Capacity Building Center for Tribes, the Mississippi Administrative Office of Courts, the Mississippi Judicial College, the state Department of Child Protection Services, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and state Youth Court judges and referees.

There is no registration fee, and people may register through the Mississippi Judicial College website at: https://tinyurl.com/Choctaw-conference.

An agenda with a listing of all of the sessions is available at http://mjc.olemiss.edu/special-projects/.

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