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Native Pathways to Education
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Testimony

Submitted to the
Alaska Natives Commission
in connection with a hearing at

Nome, Alaska
September 21, 1992

ALASKA NATIVES COMMISSION
JOINT FEDERAL-STATE COMMISSION
ON
POLICIES AND PROGRAMS AFFECTING ALASKA NATIVES
4000 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Witness List | Exhibit List | PDF Version

ALASKA NATIVES COMMISSION
HEARING
Nome, ALASKA
SEPTEMBER 21, 1992

Tina Henderson

(On record at 4:22 p.m.)

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Now on record, and it is 4:22. Tina, if you would then now, for the record, give us your name and where you' re from, and then please begin to speak as freely as you wish.

MS. HENDERSON: Okay, my name is Tina Henderson. I was born and raised here in Nome. I currently hold the position with Kawerak, Incorporated, the Native regional nonprofit -- I hold the position at Kawerak as their Indian Child Welfare Act Liaison. And a part of my job is to advocate for children, families) and tribes in state court proceedings; and I also am responsible for providing adoption services under Kawerak's adoption agency. And I've taken on this responsibility for now over two years. I travel quite frequently to the village communities here in the Bering Straits Region, and have a found a couple of things that are points of concern regarding children and families in general throughout the region, one being the state of the Child Support Enforcement Division's requirements to seek reimbursement from absent spouses through AFDC, the welfare system.

I have found in my work that sometimes this -- the CSED requirements actually, split up families, where, through the tribal adoption process to change birth certificates at the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Juneau, new parents will decide not to name a father on a birth certificate if they are on AFDC, so the father will not be responsible for large amounts of money to be reimbursed back into the State. So what happens with the Native families is that when they choose not to name the father on the birth certificate because of AFDC, that child loses half of his heritage. He's only considered one-half Eskimo, or one-half Native, whether he is full Native or not, because there is an absent parent on the -- not named on the birth certificate; and that concerns me.

I had always been under the assumption that the welfare system provided what could not be provided, because of economic hardship; and it just doesn't seem to work. I know a lot of families and a lot of young men that have bills and statements from CSED, ranging from $34,000 to $62,000 that they are in arrears for; and these young men do not have jobs because of the economic situation at the village level. I suppose this issue raises many issues regarding families, their economic financial states. I don't believe the -- this system works in the Native community. They are very rigid in the reimbursement for the amounts that are collected through AFDC.

I think, as part of a problem solver, one that has always come to mind is that I've seen young men who, although they are not providing any monetary support to the families, that they will go hunting and get a moose, or a seal, and provide it to the family, and that is not taken into consideration as any type of payment. I believe that if they -- if a lot of these young men had the opportunity to provide some type of in-kind donation to eliminate a portion of their child support payments, that they would be able to do that; but it's not anything that CSED will take into consideration at this time.

I realize that you're here for possible solutions to many problems, and I've asked different families what they do in the absence of jobs, of any type of income to reimburse the State, and they do nothing.

I believe another solution could be that if there was an advocate to tell these many, many young men in our communities that if they approach their caseworkers or managers, that something could be worked out; but they are so afraid of this whole system, because it's very foreign; and they're afraid that -- because they don’t have the money to pay the State back. I think there needs to be some type of service for, or some individual -- a person for these people to see, that they can see, or speak to, or write to, at least regionally. I know the only offices that exist are in Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks. And even those offices when you call them, you get a recording. They don't speak with human beings until they've called several times; and that's -- that has been one of the points of concern that I have heard from several different young men throughout our communities. And I'm in great hopes that the despair that these young men have could soon be helped, because they've ri -- at this point in time, I know many, many who just do nothing; and while they're not doing anything, their bills are accumulating. I have sat with young men that are ready to commit suicide, because they don't have a solution to this big bill.

I fully understand, and I think this Commission also understands that there is a problem without jobs in the Bush villages. There are very few people employed year around, and it seems to be mainly the young men that are unemployed. At this point in time, I know several that just don't work at all, because it behooves them to work, because the State will take all of their money. That seems to be a cry that really nobody has answers for at this point. I fully understand that it is federal law, and, of course, a state law; but I think there could -- they could take into consideration the lifestyles of the Native peoples here in Alaska, or throughout the United States. I certainly hope one day that some of the issues that I've pointed out can be resolved, where it's not creating more hardship on already compounded problems, just for basic survival in the Native communities.

Through my position as the Indian Child Welfare Act Liaison at Kawerak, I have -- I certainly hope that the -- there will be more people, such as I, at the village levels to advocate for children, families, and tribes in the future. I fully understand that the federal government has increased programs through the state -- Indian Child Welfare programs throughout the state; and, hopefully, we'll see a better and brighter future through our children. I believe that our programs and services that are provided to the Native communities need to be prioritized; and, as a priority, the programs that are implemented should involve children as a priority. They are our future. We will depend on them; that I believe subsistence and land issues are important also; but, as a priority, our future depends on our children and healthy lifestyles; that we should fully support the sobriety movement from the AFN, and not just say we support it, but let's do it. Through healthy people and healthy children, I think our Native communities will have a better chance of being around for another ten generations; and that's all I have to say.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Thank you, Tina. Tina, I'm just going to ask a couple of questions for clarification.

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative).

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: One, when you refer to children's father not being listed on the birth certificate, --

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative).

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: -- are these necessarily unmarried couples, or is it true of married couples as well?

MS. HENDERSON: They are unmarried couples. All of the birth certificates that I've assisted with the -- they have been unmarried couples. There is some legal format, legal language, stating that if a woman is married that she must name her spouse on a birth certificate, whether that spouse is the biological father of the child or not.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Uh-huh (affirmative). Thank you for that clarification. Since you're working with children, I'm going to ask you a question that I asked another person earlier, and that is what are the affects of -- you mentioned alcoholism. What is the -- what are your views on the fatal -- the fetal alcohol syndrome?

MS. HENDERSON: I think there needs to be more qualified medical personnel that have the qualifications to diagnosis fetal alcohol effects and fetal alcohol syndrome. I don't believe that all of the children that are affected by alcohol in the fetus are being counted. I think the numbers are very, very low.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: You mean, the real nu --

MS. HENDERSON: The --

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: -- the reported number is low?

MS. HENDERSON: The reported numbers of FAE, fetal alcohol effect, are very low. They're inconsistent with the children that have actually been affected by alcohol in the fetus in the Native communities.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Again --

REPORTER: Off record.

(Tape changed to Tape #6.)

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Again, because we are seeking solutions, and this is a difficult question to answer I'm sure, what do you think can be done about alcohol in the villages?

MS. HENDERSON: I think there are individuals that are choosing sobriety as a lifestyle and that these individuals need full support to continue sobriety; and I don't really think there is an outside program that's going to assist in any of the problems that are in the Native communities. I absolutely believe that the Native people need to recognize and become responsible for their own problems, as individuals, as a community; and these same individuals and the same communities need to come up with their own solutions, because they're -- historically, there have been -- there has been a lot of money pumped into services. An individual will come into either Nome or into the village communities maybe for one or two years, and they're gone. So all of a sudden the people are thinking then they don't have any more solutions, because that professional is gone. I think the problems in the Native, communities today need -- and the solutions need to come from the Native people themselves.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Are you aware of any Spirit Camps, such as they have in the Interior?

MS. HENDERSON: Not in this region, I'm unaware of the Native Spirit Camps.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: That, you know, is for the treatment of persons suffering from alcoholism.

MS. HENDERSON: Right. I think there are other afflictions in our communities, and not just alcohol, but especially for children, there are high rates of problems stemming from gas sniffing is another problem in the communities, because most of all ou -- most of our village communities are dry. They're not allowed to have alcohol. There are other things that people find to get high on.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Yeah.

MS. HENDERSON: And young children choose gas, because it's available. And people make their own home brew.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Uh-huh (affirmative). Not mentioning the name of the village, but I do know of one in this area that is also very badly affected with both cocaine and marijuana.

MS. HENDERSON: Right. There are many things, I suppose, that an individual can become addicted to. There are other problems coming from gambling, and it's legal. It's legal in the Native communities; but, like I said, with these -- there are some types of problems stemming from affliction and addiction that the community needs to recognize it as a problem, prioritize it, and make a decision based on what they're experiencing in a community.

There are many communities where families are receiving AFDC checks, but they're spending them at the bingo halls or at the pull tab places, so at those places, each -- I believe each and every individual community needs to make the -- make a decision whether they are going to continue that type of activity or not.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Do you think the tribal -- some type of tribal government would assist in this matter?

MS. HENDERSON: Ab --

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: We're interested in governance. That's why I ask you that.

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative). Absolutely. There -- I work directly with the tribes -- 20 tribes here in the Bering Straits Region, and -- regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act, and asserting their rights in state courts -- state court proceedings; and I believe it's time for a change. You know, you get sick and tired. This -- I hear this all the time. You're sick and tired. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. We want to see something done. But that's all that's said. We're the ones that have to do it; that does -- the Native community has to become unified against the problems that we face, and come up with our own solutions; and that's what I tell people in the villages. It's their problem; take ownership of it; and you come up with your own solution; and I guess that’s -- the villages here in this region are very diverse in their peoples and their problems.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Well that, as you know, I hope, is the real purpose of this Commission. It's not to impose solutions. It's not to even try and find solutions outside of those which the Native people themselves can propose, evaluate, act on, and so on.

MS. HENDERSON: Definitely, that in the creation of solutions and programs to come up with these solutions, I'm certainly hoping that the goal wouldn't be too far to reach, so we don't set up -- set ourselves up for failure.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Uh-huh (affirmative).

MS. HENDERSON: Of course, in taking on the responsibilities of our problems in our Native communities that that's, I guess, the only fear that we have is fear itself, at this point. There hasn't been - - there haven't been very many solutions that have totally fixed problems in the past; and I suppose it's time for a great change, for the people to come up with their own solutions to their own problems.

MR. IRWIN: Can -- I have a question. Going back specifically to the Indian Child Welfare Act, you know, it's been -- what? -- 14 years now, I think, since it was first passed by Congress; and at least the way I have -- I've always understood it is there were two key goals to be achieved by that. One was to try and reverse the ages old trend of chil -- Native children going either into foster and/or into adoptive homes that were not of their own culture -- mainly going into White America. And then, second of all, to bring the villages, through the tribal government, into that decision-making process, and empowering communities in that way.

Do you think that we're even close to having achieved either of those; and, if not, it -- and then, I guess, the second part to it -- that kind of gives my own feeling on it, which is I don't think we've come that close. How is the State -- how does the State factor in? And I know when I worked in that area, 10, 12 years ago, that was the real difficulty that we had was foster care is controlled by the State, --

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative).

MR. IRWIN: -- mainly because they control the purse strings where foster care is involved. They control adoptions, because adoptions go through the State Court System; and, thirdly, they're the ones in power to be doing (indiscernible) foster home licensing and that type of thing; and we -- I always was of the opinion that the State government itself was a big, big part of the problem; and do you feel that that has changed at all?

MS. HENDERSON: They have been -- I guess in the past couple of years, they've managed to have a relationship with the State officials as a tribal representation. When a child from this region is taken into State's custody, the tribes in this region have come up with a tribal policy regarding children, where they have stated that they will always intervene; and that's where our staff comes in. We intervene on behalf of the tribes. And, I guess, for the 20 tribes in this region, we have participated in all hearings, have intervened on behalf of all children that have been taken into custody -- not just in the state of Alaska, but outside the state of Alaska.

So, like I said, I've been in this position for over two years, and Kawerak has maintained an Indian Child Welfare program for the past eight years. So there is a solid program here regionally for the tribes and in our region. But statewide throughout the state of Alaska, I have found that other tribes do not have tribal law or policy to go on. When it comes to a child that is taken into custody -- a Native child -- when that Native child is taken into custody, there isn't the contact persons, there -- they that some people don't fully understand their rights -- tribal rights in the proceedings, and how to go about advocating for the tribe. But I have found in the past couple of years, working in this position, that the relationship -- it's been a difficult one in several different areas, several different places; and I think this past year has even been more difficult working with the Division of Family and Youth Services, because of all of the changes within the State regarding budgets, and cutbacks, and a change in the whole DFYS system throughout the state; where I think it's a real key time for State -- the State of Alaska and tribes to work together, because while the State of Alaska is cutting their funding for the -- a lot of their programs and services, where the State is making cutbacks, there is an increase in federal funding for Indian Child Welfare programs. And I think if we can work together, and maintain that children are a priority, I think we'd both be better off. That's -- that sounds really big, and it isn't working quite that way yet throughout the state; but here in this region, we do have a -- we have a good relationship with our court system, our local court system, and within the State Court System in the Anchorage area, where a bulk of our caseload is. So it -- I guess it can happen. That relationship can be enhanced; it can happen; but it takes commitment, and patience, and a lot of work.

MR. IRWIN: Probably a lot of diligence, too; I mean, staying on top of it, I would assume, has a lot to do with it. Just persistently being there and making sure that the State understands that, in fact, as a Native community, you are interested in what happens to those children.

MS. HENDERSON: They know that. When we're - - when we become involved -- at this point, when a child is taken into custody in the Anchorage area, they know that if they're from a village here in this region, they know to contact our office. So it's -- I guess it's -- it has worked out for us. Our relationship with the State officials, State workers, has worked out.

MR. IRWIN: How about in the area of actual licensed Native foster houses, like a child, let's say, taken into custody in this region. What are -- what's the likelihood that he or she will wind up -- if they are to wind up in a foster home, what's the likelihood of them being able to be placed in a Native foster home?

MS. HENDERSON: That always occurs. If it --

MR. IRWIN: So there are enough Native foster homes?

MS. HENDERSON: There are not enough licensed, but it's usually a relative that will take a child in and become licensed, --

MR. IRWIN: Okay.

MS. HENDERSON: -- or an extended family member. There have been very few situations -- there have been isolated situations where a child is not in a -- is in a Native -- a non-Native foster home, because he or she has medical problems, and --

MR. IRWIN: Special needs.

MS. HENDERSON: Special needs, exactly. But in the absence of tribes being responsible to license foster homes, are the tribes -- some tribes in this region have a code or an ordinance -- codes and ordinances regarding the foster-care home-- licensing process. And we are in the process this year through our program to come up with an application, and whether the State of Alaska recognizes tribes or not, that we will come up with a standard application for tribal members to become tribally-licensed foster homes.

MR. IRWIN: Well, I think that that would be -- it would be excellent if the final step in that is where the tribes are working closely enough to where -- with the State to where the State will accept that tribal licensing and thereby pay -- make the -- why -- just have him:

"If you guys have licensed, that' s good enough for us, and we'll state it -- and we'll say that, you know, so it meets requirements of the State licensing."

Because that was one of the things that I really found back in the late 70s and early 80s was, first of all, the State didn't know how to get foster -- Native foster homes licensed.

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative).

MR. IRWIN: (Laughing.) You know, they didn’t know to get out there into the communities and find good people; and also, back then, although I could see that it was -- the easiest thing is just to put them in a foster home and then we could -- the detail of getting the thing licensed after the fact, you know, that can be handled. And I’m glad to see that that process is in place; but I guess the very next step is to where the State and the tribes are working close enough together to where the State recognizes that the tribes have their act well enough together to have standards for licensing that can meet the requirements of the State, so that ultimately the tribes can just take over that function almost --

MS. HENDERSON: Right.

MR. IRWIN: -- completely, and the State being more just an adjunct to the process, rather than the driver of the vehicle as they have been in the past.

MS. HENDERSON: There are actually -- some tribes here in this region have higher standards than the State in regards to adoption; and that's really nice to see. I'm really proud of 'em, the bribes that have passed their children's codes and ordinances; and regardless of what standard the State has, they've -- it's not that they've lowered their standards, their standards are higher in the placement of their tribal- member children; because they absolutely do believe that their children are mo -- their most valuable resource, and they will be responsible for that protection of that Native spirit, and the Native family, and the Native community. Do you have any other questions, or. . .
(Laughing.)

MR. IRWIN: That's all mine.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: I do -- -we do thank you very much.

MS. HENDERSON: Oh, you're welcome. I had understood that there was a State House Joint Resolution that was passed by Se -- Representative Eileen Maclean, regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act, and -- with respect to studying the Act. And I think, throughout the state, our organization and the tribes in this region were the only folks that opposed the detailed studying of the Indian Child Welfare Act; but instead of studying the Indian Child Welfare Act, maybe they ought to do a more comprehensive evaluation of the State's child protection system, that the Indian Child Welfare Act was -- came about to protect the Natives across the nation, through our children; and I don't think that it is any time -- ox this is not the time to especially change what right we have left through our children; that I absolutely believe that Native people across the nation have never been accused of failing to compromise; that when it comes to our children, we won't compromise no more. And by not compromising any more, we assist in the drafting of tribal laws; and that's real important that there's State law, federal law. What about tribal law? Those are priorities these days through our office.

MR. IRWIN: I'm familiar with the joint resolution you were talking about, and then -- and I believe it was more -- if I recall correctly, it was more aimed at examining whether or not the state has lived up to its part of the responsibility for widespread implementation of the -- basically the intent of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and that's where my -- in fact, my earlier question came from is whether or not, you know -- or how, if at all, things have changed to where, you know, is the State -- see they used to be uncooperative for many, many years in implementing that; but I have sensed that they've loosened up quite a bit; and once they've seen that, hey, these Natives out here, they, you know, they seem to have a good sense about what needs to be done, you know, generally, where it comes to their children, and maybe we don't have to be so fearful that if we --

MS. HENDERSON: Right.

MR. IRWIN: -- let them have a part of the decision--

MS. HENDERSON: I guess --

MR. IRWIN: -- making action, you know, the world's not going to fall apart here.

MS. HENDERSON: I guess that' s a -- where maybe another misconception has arised, when the tribes in Alaska are involved in the screening process for children's placements, that I think a misconception is that the standards are lowered because the -- a Native organization or the Native tribe is involved. And that is so totally untrue that -- and that's why I say that there are tribes in this region that have higher standards than the State does at this time. And I think, at this time, they really need our help; and if we can work together, I think we'd all be better off, and especially our children would be better off.

And with this Child Support Enforcement Division stuff, it's -- it doesn't even make sense that -- it doesn't make sense to me how decisions are arrived, or how amounts are arrived -- where they arrive at amounts, or how they arrive at their decisions is beyond me; and I always thought I was a little bit intelligent to figure things out. I haven't been able to do that yet.
(Laughter.)

MR. IRWIN: Well, I think the thing with Child Enforcement, too, is they're so much more -- they're concerned with revenues. They're within the Department of Revenue, and I don't think they tend to look at what they're doing where it's social --

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative).

MR. IRWIN: -- policy implications.

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative).

MR. IRWIN: You see that also in situations of child support, and in divorce proceedings, and how they go after them. Even if it's not in the best interest of the family for them to be doing what they're doing the way they're doing it, it doesn't seem to much matter, as it's the whole drive to get that revenue back.

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative).

MR. IRWIN: And a similar situation that Native people a lot of times were finding themselves in was where, for all intensive purposes, a traditional Native adoption had taken place. For instance, the grandparents raising a child.

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative).

MR. IRWIN: And although no formal State court proceeding had ever taken place severing the parental
Lies and granting an adoption to the grandparents or anything, it is in effect an adoption.

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative].

MR. IRWIN: And -- but the biological mother, for instance, or -- and/or the biological father would find themselves in the same situation if grandma went down and applied and got AFDC, then the biological parent would start getting hit. And one of the things that the Cowper Administration did -- was able to do was to -- is to change their policies and their approach to things, to make tribal -- traditional tribal adoptions much easier to, in fact, effectuate; and effectuate them without the State courts ever having to become involved. Thereby, the main reason for that was in order for grandma to be able to take care of her child, who was, you know -- maybe not her biological child, but the child that she's raising without her daughter or son having to have ultimate responsibility for it. Just as happens in Western society, somebody severs a relationship; the child goes to the adoptive parents. If the adoptive parents have to apply for AFDC, that biological parent isn't hit with the bill with that; and so it was to try to bring -- and to try to recognize that there are different ways of adoptions taking place. And maybe something along those lines, you know, could happen in the future with respect to the issue that you raised, and being that the -- you know, the biological father basically not being able even to be a part of their child's life in any way, because they' re scared of the consequences that will rise from that.

MS. HENDERSON: This region has been fully aware of the traditional tribal-adoption process since the regulation was passed in April 1990; and. the tribes in this region have all of the forms. We xerox the forms at Kawerak and provide them to the tribes and the families throughout the region; and I'll have to say it's - - it has been a godsend for families. It's very simple; it's economically feasible; and they don't have to travel to a State court to adopt a child. That's been one of the better things that have happened in the Native community probably for two generations.

MR. IRWIN: Good to hear you say that, because I worked for Governor Cowper, and I --

MS. HENDERSON: Yeah.

MR. IRWIN: -- put a lot of time and sweat into that.

MS. HENDERSON: Did you?

MR. IRWIN: Yeah.
MS. HENDERSON: Yeah?

MR. IRWIN: And I think that also your suggestion about, you know, there being (indiscernible - away from microphone and papers rattling) father' s credit for traditional ways of helping out.

MS. HENDERSON: Right.

MR. IRWIN: Yeah, maybe he's not able to supply $364 in a check or cash each month; but -- and making that the only requirement of the only way that he can become involved, I think ignores a lot of the traditional Native ways of community and family helping, and responsibility for ones own.

MS. HENDERSON: Uh-huh (affirmative). Hopefully --

MR. IRWIN: Although there are some deadbeats out there; but --

MS. HENDERSON: Yes.

MR. IRWIN: -- there's -- those who, you know, legitimately are trying to make it.

MS. HENDERSON: I mean, I've read it in our headline news in our -- in the Anchorage newspaper where, I mean, they even named one of the individuals that owes $62,000 here in one of our villages in this region. And so by naming this individual and shaming him through the press, is this supposed to make him come up with the $62,000? Come on, you know, they -- I mean, and they've publicly called him a deadbeat and everything, and they don't even know the guy, you know. They don't know that there is -- there aren't any jobs in his village. They are in -- and if there were, and he were hired on, he probably wouldn't even take the position, because they'd be taking half of his money; that it's not -- but at the same time, the same individual, like I said, would go moose hunting, or get a reindeer, or get a seal, or fish, and bring it over to where his child was staying to make sure that he ate and had the basics. It's not like, you know, that they stopped caring for their children because they owe all of this money and it's scary. It's really scary out there with this issue. I think I've only spoken to the tip of the iceberg for the young men that are responsible for reimbursement. There are many, many, many people out there that are too afraid to even admit that they're in this dilemma. It's scary. It's really scary.

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Thank you very much.

MS. HENDERSON: Oh, you're welcome.

MR. IRWIN: Is that a wrap?

COMMISSIONER ELLIOTT: Good-bye.

(Off record at 5:06 p.m.)


 

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