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Native American Children's Safety Act clears House and Senate






Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) with Native high school students from North Dakota. Photo from Facebook

In a rare act of unity, the House and the Senate today passed a measure aimed at improving the safety of Native American children.

The Native American Children's Safety Act requires background checks of all adults in a home where foster children are placed. It was written to ensure tribal courts and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have all the information necessary to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable American Indians and Alaska Natives.

"Passage of this legislation in the US House and US Senate fulfills our commitment to ensuring Native American children are placed into safe foster care homes. This bill creates a national foster care standard for tribes by unifying existing national requirements for non-tribal foster care placements and ensuring tribal children receive the same protections provided non-tribal children," Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), who introduced H.R.1168 in the House, said in a press release.


YouTube: Congressman Cramer Discusses H.R. 1168, the Native American Children's Safety Act

“Native American children living on reservations should have all of the same protections when placed in foster care that children living off the reservation have,” added Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) , who introduced S.184, the Senate version. “The Native American Children’s Safety Act requires background checks for all adults living in a foster home, helping to ensure that children placed there are secure at an already difficult time in their lives."

North Dakota's entire Congressional delegation -- including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) -- pushed for the bill after a series of tragedies involving children on the Spirit Lake Nation. The tribe supports the measure and Cramer led a hearing last June to look more closely into the issues facing the child welfare system there and throughout Indian Country.


Indianz.Com SoundCloud: House Debate on Indian Bills

"Native American tribes have a complex and uneven series of procedures and guidelines for foster care and this bill addresses this problem with the creation of a national standard which unifies existing national requirements for non-tribal foster care placements, ensuring tribal children receive the same robust protections afforded non-tribal children," Cramer said today.

The first version of the bill was introduced during the last session of Congress. It did not pass but supporters moved quickly this year to get it back on the agenda.

It's almost unheard of for a standalone bill affecting Indian issues to clear both chambers in a such a short amount of time, much less on the same day. Even most tribe-specific measures take one or two sessions to pass.

The Native American Children's Safety Act can now be sent to President Barack Obama, whose visit to the North Dakota portion of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last summer inspired him to focus more on Native youth issues, for his signature.

Related Stories:
House committee passes Native American Children's Safety Act (03/27)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee approves four bills at meeting (2/4)
The Native American Children's Safety Act introduced in Senate (03/27) Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota)