Daryle Conquering Bear Crow is being honored as a Champion of Change for Foster Care
Understanding your identity is important for any young person, whether or not they are in foster care. Culture is a big part of an individual’s development and identity. Although these issues of identity and culture are important for every child and foster child’s development, they are, perhaps, even more so for native foster youth. Native youth who are not in care and are connected to their tribe have opportunities to attend sweat lodges, vision quest, and various other native rites of passage that are important to the native culture. Many Native American youth in foster care do not get to experience these milestones in native life and lack a connection to their culture and identity as a result. The development of self-esteem as a Native American is critical for young people. Without cultural connections, native youth may suffer from low self-esteem. And if they return to their reservation after care, they can feel like a spectator, because they do not know how to participate in activities with the community, such as dances at pow-wows.
A sense of purpose is also important to the Native culture. In Native ways, the Creator has put us all here for a purpose and that purpose in life comes through milestones in a young Native person’s life. Native foster youth in non-native care do not get the opportunity to connect with the Creator during these Native ceremonies and events and they may struggle to find a sense of purpose as to why they were put here on earth.
My work over the last 10 years has geared to helping states understand why we need full compliance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. ICWA states, “It is the policy of this Nation to protect the best interests of Indian children and promote the stability and security of Indian Tribes and families” and “reflect the unique values of Indian culture.” The best interests of the Native American child include an understanding of his or her identity and connection to his or her culture as a native youth. Currently, however, ICWA is failing to provide this expressed best interest of every native child in care. Too many Native youth are not connected to their culture while in foster care and, as a result, many native youth exit out of care with unanswered questions about their identity.
I have had the opportunity to collaborate with national Native American organizations to speak out on youth development and the identity of our youth in care, the importance of cultural connections. My two most memorable internships included the summer of 2012 when I interned for United States Senator Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota). It was this summer that I was able to really sit down and talk to congressional members about the importance of ICWA and the identity of native children in foster care. I wrote a congressional report and presented it to numerous congressional members at the end of my internship. Following the summer of 2012, I interned for the National Indian Child Welfare Association, with the Government Policy department. There, I was able to fully dive into ICWA, work with numerous staff, tribal elected officials, and present the importance of ICWA. I believe the internship with NICWA has developed my professional career and love for youth development and identity.
The importance of keeping connected to culture and identity is important for any children and youth in care. My work will always continue to help the future generations of native youth. Decisions we make today impact the generations after us. Leave No Indian Child Behind; they all deserve a chance.
Daryle Conquering Bear Crow is the Healthy Living Program Assistant at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center. He is a senior at Oregon State University.