The National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence presented its final report and recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder in December 2012. Recently, Holder outlined the initial steps to implement the recommendations of the department’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, part of the Defending Childhood Initiative. There were 56 recommendations made by the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The Task Force Recommendations include:
1. Appoint a federal task force or commission to examine the needs of American Indian/Alaska Native children exposed to violence.
A closer look needs to be taken to examine the specific needs of Native children exposed to violence and historical, intergenerational and cultural trauma. Many communities are using evidence-based interventions and service delivery that are trauma focused and in which caregivers providing services understand the impact that exposure to violence and trauma have on victims. This trauma happens to Native children on a daily basis through racial profiling, sexual, psychological and physical abuse, and community violence.
2. Ensure compliance with the letter and spirit of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
Because the ICWA is a federal statute, successful implementation will be best ensured through strong, coordinated support from the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs; Department of Health and Social Services, Administration for Children and Families; and the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Children Exposed to Violence). This recommendation comes as ironic seeing how the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Veronica. Had compliance with the letter and spirit of the ICWA law happened in the first place there would be no case at the Supreme Court level.
3. Provide juvenile justice services appropriate to children’s ethno-cultural background that are based on an assessment of each violence-exposed child’s individual needs.
Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative is one of the nation’s most effective juvenile justice system reforms. As we have looked closer at our juvenile detention facilities in Indian country it has become evident that our detention facilities are little more then modern day boarding schools. Many of the facilities engage in practices that traumatize and damage the youth in their care. Practices and programs aimed at healing traumatized youth and preventing youth from being further exposed to violence in the juvenile justice system should be expanded nationwide and incorporated into statewide juvenile justice system.
"Let me tell you just a little something about the American Indian in our land. We have provided millions of acres of land for what are called preservations – or reservations, I should say. They, from the beginning, announced that they wanted to maintain their way of life, as they had always lived there in the desert and the plains and so forth. And we set up these reservations so they could, and have a Bureau of Indian Affairs to help take care of them. At the same time, we provide education for them—schools on the reservations. And they're free also to leave the reservations and be American citizens among the rest of us, and many do. Some still prefer, however, that way—that early way of life. And we've done everything we can to meet their demands as to how they want to live. Maybe we made a mistake. Maybe we should not have humored them in that wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said, no, come join us; be citizens along with the rest of us." (Ronald Reagan)
"We also recommit to supporting tribal self-determination, security, and prosperity for all Native Americans. While we cannot erase the scourges or broken promises of our past, we will move ahead together in writing a new, brighter chapter in our joint history." (Barack Obama)
These are two very different statements on Indian Affairs by two very different presidents. Let us hope that we are not just being humored and that as Native people we will be listened to as we engage our youth, families, and communities in finding ways to end this exposure to violence.
Donna Ennis is the chair of the Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council, as well as the eastern regional director and cultural director for North Homes Children and Family Services, a professional foster care agency.