Testimony to the Transportation and Local Government Affairs Committee of the Colorado State Senate
Ha.we Madame Chair, Madame Vice Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to voice support for HB 1151 on behalf of the board and staff of Denver Indian Family Resource Center, also known as DIFRC. My name is Tara McLain Manthey. I’m the Executive Director for DIFRC, and a citizen of the Osage Nation.
DIFRC’s mission is to strengthen Denver Metro-area American Indian and Alaska Native families who experience the most barriers to well-being. We provide culturally responsive services and community programs–including emergency assistance, parenting support, and advocacy for the reunification of Native families involved in the child welfare system.
The long history of removing Native children from their families in order to assimilate Native peoples into mainstream American culture continues today. Removal and assimilation of Native children has impacts on children, parents, cultures and whole tribes. We see this legislation as a step toward ensuring Native children have more culturally responsive and supportive settings when it isn’t possible to be placed with kin.
There are very few certified Native foster homes in Colorado due to the systemic barriers created by state systems and requirements. There are as few as seven Native foster homes in the state, and they are all occupied. This bill would ensure more Native foster homes with approval of federally recognized tribes who comply with their own and federal ICWA standards.
The Denver Metro area is home to tens of thousands of American Indian and Alaska Native people from hundreds of different federally recognized tribes. Many in the Urban Native community have ties to tribes headquartered in other states. Families who have lived in this area for generations still “go home” to Oklahoma, Montana, Arizona, Washington, Nebraska and many other states for ceremonies, family events, tribal government services and more. Some have closer ties to their tribal governments in other states than they do to local cities and counties here in Colorado.
Partnering with tribes to identify and certify foster homes would increase the potential for AI/AN children to be placed in culturally appropriate settings with caring family members who can more closely relate to their experiences and heritage. We have seen growing research that shows culturally informed services and settings contribute to healing from the trauma of removal and other toxic stress many children in the child welfare system have experienced.
Finally, this bill affirms and advances the core intention of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which is to ensure Native children are kept within Native families and communities whenever possible.
We are grateful to the Colorado Department of Human Services, Senator Coram, and Representatives McLachlan and Catlin for bringing this innovative idea forward. Thank you for listening to my testimony today, it has been an honor to share it with you.
Thank you – We.on.na
Tara Manthey, Executive Director
Denver Indian Family Resource Center
April 27, 2021