A bill to keep Native children within their tribe or pueblo when the state separates them from their parents passed the House State Government and Indian Affairs Committee unanimously on Monday.
Sponsored by state Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque and of the Acoma Pueblo, HB 209 has overwhelming support from various organizations and Tribal and pueblo governments in the state.
If it becomes law, the bill would codify the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which was passed in the 1970s but is poorly enforced, according to experts. The bill would guide the state Children, Youth and Families Department to notify tribes and pueblos when a child removal occurs and to work with the Tribal community to place a Native child with extended family or friends or foster families within their own sovereign nation.
Related: Bill to codify the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law an important step, say advocates
Keeping a Native child within the world of their language, culture and traditions helps with the healing process, advocates of the bill have said.
“They have the potential to lose their language, culture and ties to their family. It’s crucial to maintain their own identities,” Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, said.
Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. Joseph Talachy said that he lost his four older siblings because they were born before the 1978 federal law passed the U.S. Congress. Because of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, he was able to grow up with extended family. He said he is still searching for his older relatives.
The bill heads to the House Health and Human Services Committee next.