Fifty years ago a small, but powerful delegation from the Spirit Lake Nation, what was then known as the Dakota Sioux Tribe, traveled to New York City and then Washington D.C. to plead with the nation’s government about an injustice being done to native people.

Fifty years ago a small, but powerful delegation from the Spirit Lake Nation, what was then known as the Dakota Sioux Tribe, traveled to New York City and then Washington D.C. to plead with the nation’s government about an injustice being done to native people.

In those days there was great poverty on the reservation and as a result it became standard practice for county welfare workers to remove children from their mothers and fathers, from their families, and to place them in foster care in non-native homes. Native families were being torn apart because of poverty and a lack of cultural understanding.

Mr. Louis Goodhouse, who was the tribal chairman at Fort Totten, set out to bring attention to this wrong being done to his people by the U.S. government. He traveled from his home in North Dakota to New York City and then to Washington D.C. and brought with him several mothers whose children had been taken from them.

Those heartbroken, brave and determined mothers told their stories to those who would listen.

It took another 10 years, but in 1978 the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

Descendants of the mothers in that delegation and Goodhouse, himself, were honored Tuesday at the Spirit Lake Casino by those attending the 17th annual North Dakota Indian Child Welfare and Wellness Conference.

The Native American Training Institute hosted the three-day conference, Feb. 26-28. This year’s conference celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and the hope, healing and perseverance the federal law has brought to Native American families.

“This year, we are honored to host this conference at Spirit Lake where the national ICWA movement began four decades ago,” said Stephanie DeCoteau, director of the Native American Training Institute. “The conference’s agenda put a focus on this milestone and provided training and insight on various cultural and tribal relations topics, child welfare issues, and health and wellness strategies to help conference participants in their work with children and families.”

On the opening day, Feb. 26, retired Judge William Thorne Jr. shared information on ICWA, and there was a presentation on child welfare code of ethics. Afternoon topics included truth healing reconciliation in Indian child welfare and what research and science is showing about trauma, resilience and relationships among children and families. There was a panel discussion on how ICWA has been implemented within each North Dakota tribe and in the justice system.

The conference continued on Feb. 27 with morning presentations on understanding N.E.A.R. (Neuroscience, Epigenetics, Adversity, and Resilience) and managing professional stress while caring for others. At noon on day two, there was a special recognition luncheon honoring the members of the original ICWA leadership team from Spirit Lake who went to Washington, D.C. and advocated for federal legislation to protect native children.

Topics discussed at the conference included human trafficking in Indian country, the history and culture of Spirit Lake, the gift of healing brought by today’s youth, fostering children impacted by domestic violence, and the benefits of meditation and yoga in classrooms and homes. The conference wrapped up on Feb. 28 with two morning presentations on healing communities and weaving the past into the present.

Over 150 participated in the conference including social service professionals, counselors, child protection workers, judges, attorneys, juvenile justice and Tribal court personnel, foster parents, educators, behavioral health professionals, students from Cankdeska Cikana Community College who are studying Social Work and others interested in the child welfare system. The conference was hosted by the Native American Training Institute in partnership with the North Dakota Department of Human Services’ Children and Family Services Division.