Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Foster families needed for Cherokee children

The work of our Cherokee foster parents, child welfare workers and advocates is near and dear to my heart. It is an issue that deserves our daily attention. Cherokee people have always believed our children are sacred and their care is a shared responsibility. Each and every Cherokee child is precious and ensures our collective continued existence.

Sadly, there are more than 1,800 Cherokee children in foster care, with 1,100 of those children living right here in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, we are at a crossroad, with more children in custody than Cherokee foster homes available. The importance of placing Cherokee children in Cherokee foster homes is vital. Not only do our children deserve the right to grow up in a safe, loving environment, but they deserve the right to maintain their tribal ties to Cherokee values and culture.

Removal of our people from our homelands more than 175 years ago is one of the saddest parts of not just Cherokee history, but one of the darkest chapters in all of American history. The Trail of Tears created a long-lasting trauma for generations of Cherokee people, and we are still seeing the effects of it today. One of the most gut-wrenching ways is the trauma of a child in need of family.  

Since those dark days of removal, foster care has been a sad but necessary reality, and although it may look different than our tragic historic event, removal is still happening to our Cherokee children when they are plucked from unsafe environments. Unfortunately, there are times when our children are in unsafe situations and need an extra measure of support. Sometimes abuse and neglect can be repeated without interruption across several generations. When this happens, it is necessary to remove children for their well-being in order to facilitate a healing process, with the hope of family reunification. 

Temporary foster care is critical in the process. It literally saves kids and families, and without intervention there is little chance for family healing.

These rights are protected under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which mandate certain placement preferences occur should an Indian child become deprived and warrant removal from their home. In the placement preferences listed, citizens of a child’s tribe are listed as the second consideration, after family. For tribes nationwide, including the Cherokee Nation, protecting our children though ICWA is not simply a juvenile issue, it is also a tribal sovereignty and family rights issue.

Just last week, the Department of Interior issued strengthened ICWA regulations that will better protect  the rights of Indian children, their parents and their tribes in state child welfare proceedings. The provisions ensure identification and tribal notification when Indian children are involved in state court custody proceedings and recognize Indian children are best served when ICWA is strictly enforced. Most important, the new regulations instruct state courts on how to provide reunification services to meet the ultimate goal in all foster care cases: reunification of the family.

If you have ever considered the path of foster care, we need Cherokee families more than ever in Oklahoma and across the nation. For more information on how you can become a Cherokee foster home or other ways to help, please contact Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare at 918-458-6900 or visit www.cherokeekids.org

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fighting the opioid surge in northeast Oklahoma

Prescription drug abuse is rampant in Oklahoma, with abusers being identified at younger and younger ages.  Oklahoma ranks in the top 10 nationally of overdoses and deaths related to opioid abuse. Additionally, Indian Health Service reports that opioid abuse-related deaths among tribal populations is almost double the general population. 

Opioid painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone account for about 75 percent of prescription drug overdose deaths. We have a crisis in Oklahoma and throughout Indian Country, and we must raise awareness of the issue and create sustainable prevention plans for families, schools and community organizations. It’s important our Cherokee Nation youth know the importance of not only physical health, but mental health. That’s why we are striving to ensure Cherokee Nation citizens are healthy and safe.

Our tribe’s behavioral health department has prevention coordinators who are working to secure drop bags at area pharmacies with important information on safe use, safe storage and safe disposal of prescription drugs. The safe drop off bags and locations get no longer needed drugs out of medicine cabinets and homes. On one recent Saturday afternoon in Wagoner, our team collected more than 3,000 pills for disposal and distributed lockboxes for families to keep dangerous and addictive painkillers away from children.

This effort is a partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, as well as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Our tribal marshals are also part of a new project the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the IHS and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy have instituted. The BIA is training officers to recognize opioid overdoses and be authorized to dispense a dose of naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose by counterbalancing the drug’s slowing of the victim’s nervous and respiratory systems.

This is a national pilot program, and we are proud to be involved along with other tribal officers in Oklahoma. After the training, our Cherokee Nation marshals will be better equipped to identify and divert overdoses, which will save lives.

We need a comprehensive response to this problem. We’ve addressed education with pharmacies and equipped our law enforcement officers with better information and tools to deal with prescription drug abuse within our 14-county tribal jurisdictional boundaries. In addition to education, we must ensure addiction treatment is available to the thousands of people who need it. 

Addiction and the escalating rate of overdoses are a simple matter of life and death. We are taking a serious look at how we can best help our citizens to break the cycle of abuse. I hope you will join me in this effort.