Throughout most of 20th century, various state agencies and courts often placed Native American children who were orphaned or homeless or judged to be neglected or abused with non-Indian families.
In some states, up to 25 to 35 percent of children were removed from their homes at some point, according to Congressional records. Further, 80 to 90 percent of these children ended up in non-Indian homes. This action tore children away from their tribes, their extended families and their cultures.
In 1978, the U.S. Congress moved to reverse this trend by enacting the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Act and subsequent amendments, among other things:
Called for legal counsel for parents.
Required proof of alleged abuse or neglect.
Gave tribal courts jurisdiction over Native American children.
Mandated that children be placed in homes that "reflect the unique value of Indian culture."
However, there are thousands upon thousands of Native Americans who already have grown up ourside their cultures. In addition, the problem continues because some children are still being placed outside their tribes. Critics contend many states have violated the spirit of the law by creating and finding exemptions to the Act.
The tragic story of Lost Bird inspired the creation of the Lost Bird Society, which strives to help these present day lost ones find their heritage. To find out more, check the Web site at http://lostbirdsociety.zintka.webjump.com.
The non-profit National Indian Child Welfare Association also helps tribes throughout the United States by "helping to strengthen and enhance their capacity to deliver quality child welfare services." The group offers assistance with community development and public policy development and serves as an information exchange. For details see the Web site at www.nicwa.org or write: National Indian Child Welfare Association, 5100 SW Macadam, Suite 300, Portland, OR 97201.