New Resources from First Kids 1st: The Tribal Leadership Series

A major part of the work of the First Kids 1st – Every Child is Sacred Initiative is working to strengthen equitable and local supports for vulnerable Native children in their communities. This starts with our tribal leaders. We are excited to share a new collection of resources within a Tribal Leadership Series: Youth Engagement, ICWA Advocacy, and Funding Child Welfare Services.

Learn more about the guides for Youth Engagement, ICWA, Advocacy, and Funding Child Welfare Services below.

Youth Engagement

Tribal leaders are looked to by community members to set the tone and expectations on how community issues and tribal programs should be managed. Help develop a community of strong, healthy people and leaders for our future by learning the importance of youth engagement and how you can implement varying levels in different policies and initiatives. Included is a list of tools for youth engagement like youth forums, youth-led research, and community asset mapping.

ICWA Advocacy

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) provides American Indian and Alaska Native children and families with some of the most valuable federal protections available to any group of children. Learn more about ICWA and how to improve ICWA advocacy for your tribal member children and families. In addition, this guide discusses the role of tribal leaders in national advocacy efforts with provided resources.

Funding Child Welfare Services

Child welfare funding has changed significantly over the last several decades. Discover how to think about funding tribal child welfare program services in a way that matches community values while leveraging available funding from tribal, federal, and state sources. The guide discusses how to make good decisions regarding the use of funding sources based upon the match between community values, desired outcomes, and program capacity.

View and download all Tribal Leader Series Toolkits here.

Opinion: State and private child welfare agencies took one in four Native children

The original opinion article was published on Indian Country Today on November 9, 2018.

By Gil Vigil

Forty years later, ICWA stands to protect our youth

As the executive director of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, former governor of Tesuque Pueblo, and president of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, I am a stalwart advocate for Native children.

Forty years ago, the child welfare system reeled in the face of a public reality check.

It wasn’t so long ago.

A study published in 1977 by the Association of American Indian Affairs revealed that 25 to 35 percent of all Native children were removed from their homes by state child welfare and private adoption agencies. Eighty-five percent of the children removed were placed in non-Native homes, outside of their families and communities—even when fit and willing relatives were available.

With statistics exposing the grim consequences of centuries of forced assimilation of Native people into the dominant culture, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA is a long-standing federal law protecting the well-being of Native children by upholding family integrity and stability. The act recognizes the authority and responsibility of tribes to protect their member children and families.

This week, at the anniversary of the passage of ICWA, this issue feels fresh and raw.

Last month, in a federal district court in Northern Texas, a judge ruled on Brackeen v. Zinke and declared ICWA a “race-based law lacking a present-day articulation of its need.” This misinformed decision ignores the uphill battle for inherent rights that tribal governments, Native rights advocates, and Native families and children have faced since the act was passed. It ignores the dozens of states where collaborative tribal-state relationships are effectively ensuring the best interest of Indian children and keeping families together or reunifying whenever possible. Finally, it ignores the 18 national child advocacy organizations who have unequivocally declared ICWA the “gold standard” of child welfare policy, a law that would greatly benefit all children.

Throughout my life as a tribal child advocate, father, and grandfather, I have realized that we have much to learn from Native youth.

The Youth Commission of the National Congress of American Indians, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most representative national Indian organization, recently read a statement at a gathering of tribal leaders and tribal advocates in a response to the Brackeen v. Zinke decision. They said, “We, as youth leaders, know that our identity is who we are, is within our culture, and within the tribal community that raises us…. We are raised by tribal communities, because we learn from the community as a whole, not just from our family.”

We need to stand with youth as we unite to protect today’s and tomorrow’s generations of children. As the Youth Commission said in their closing statement: “ICWA is about Native youth and the communities and culture that sustain them. [Native children] should not be taken from their tribal community, because when they are a piece of our culture is lost.”

Gil Vigil is the former governor of Tesuque Pueblo, the executive director of the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council, and president of National Indian Child Welfare Association.

National Indian Health Board Welcomes Inaugural Health Policy Fellow Class

Growing the Next Generation of Health Policy Advocates

Native youth are engaged, strong, resilient, and acutely aware of the political and social tides shaping Indian Country. Some are participating in grassroots movements, exercising their voices at Standing Rock and organizing to protect Bears Ears. Others are taking on leadership roles in their communities and committing themselves to learning the ins and outs of governance. Several are running for political office.

The National Indian Health Board, in partnership with the First Kids 1st initiative, has committed to providing the resources and mentorship to grow the next generation of Indian health advocates.

National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Health Policy Fellowship

NIHB Health Policy Fellows are a diverse group of young adults who work directly with their Tribal leadership to identify one priority health issue. Then, with the support of program mentors, Fellows learn how to analyze policy in their issue area, create informed recommendations, and advocate for change.

NIHB covers the cost of Fellows’ travel and accommodations to attend all in-person meetings. NIHB also provides free opportunities for professional development and skills building to both current Fellows and Fellowship alumni.

Welcoming the Class of 2018-2019

NIHB was pleased to welcome the second class of Health Policy Fellows during a five-day training in Washington DC. This gathering, which took place June 27th through July 1st, was the first of three in-person and five web-based trainings.

This year’s class is a group of talented young women from across Indian Country who are dedicated to advancing the health of their communities. Please join us in celebrating these young health advocates:

Danielle Antelope             Eastern Shoshone Tribe

Onaleece Colegrove         Hoopa Valley Tribe

Mandy Dazen                    White Mountain Apache Tribe

Nachya George                 Yakama Nation

Ryann Monteiro                Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah

Mariah Sharpe                  Colorado River Indian Tribes (Mohave and Chemehuevi)

Shelbie Shelder                  Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Carmelita Shouldis           Sicangu Lakota Rosebud Sioux Tribe

Jolie Murray                       Beaver village

Betsy Waller                       Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation

Tia Yazzie                           Navajo Nation

Getting Connected

If you have any questions about the NIHB Health Policy Fellowship or would like to submit an application to join next year’s cohort, please contact NIHB’s Native Youth Engagement Manager, Dr. Wendee Gardner at or (202) 507-7297.

To learn more and stay connected, follow NIHB on Facebook and Twitter where we will highlight program participants and their achievements, provide tools and resources for engaging in health policy, and announce the launch of our new NIHB Youth page, as well as NEW mini-grant opportunities!

FK1st Initiative Launches 2018 Native Children’s Policy Agenda Update

Today, the First Kids 1st Every Child is Sacred Initiative launched the 2018-2019 Native Children’s Policy Agenda (NCPA) Update featuring policy opportunities and recommendations for the coming year and identifies areas of collaboration for serving and supporting Native children and youth to forge measurable progress.

The 2018-2019 NCPA Update focuses on four priority areas this year including: Funding for Health, Shelter, and Safety to Serve Native Youth; School Construction and Infrastructure for Native Students; The Opioid Epidemic and its Impact on Native Youth; and The Farm Bill and the Health of Native Youth.

Since 2015, FK1st has provided updates to the Native Children’s Policy Agenda (NCPA), a tool intended to assist Tribal leaders and other policymakers in their work to create and implement a vision for vibrant, healthy communities. It is also intended to guide stakeholders as they prioritize legislation and policy issues that may affect Native children and youth. Within each of the four overarching themes, NCPA sets forth Tribal strategies and policy objectives to implement these principles. The themes are: Healthy Lifestyles; Supportive Environments; Students Ready to Succeed; and Vibrant Communities.

Read and download the 2018-2019 NCPA Update here. Read and download the full NCPA Agenda here. Questions? Please contact