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Native American Child Wellness Conference Under Way in ND

Child-welfare experts are in Mandan for the 15th Indian Child Welfare and Wellness Conference. (iStockphoto)
Child-welfare experts are in Mandan for the 15th Indian Child Welfare and Wellness Conference. (iStockphoto)
February 17, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - Hundreds of child-protection workers, teachers and foster parents are expected to be at today's kick off for North Dakota's 15th annual Indian Child Welfare and Wellness Conference.

The idea behind the meeting in Mandan is to help Native American families and communities provide better support for native children. Sandra Bercier, director of the Native American Training Institute, said legal experts will be talking about the current state of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which helps keep Native American foster children within Native American families.

"There's a higher number of Native American children in foster care than there should be," she said. "We're always looking for more families, more ways of taking care of our children."

According to North Dakota Kids Count, about 27 percent of Native American children were in foster care in 2013. But, Native Americans make up only about 5 percent of the overall population of the state.

The conference also will be focused on other Native American children's issues, including juvenile justice, and cultural and tribal relations. One of today's first speakers will be Judge William Thorne, who Bercier said is a leading expert on the Indian Child Welfare Act.

"He actually brings us up to where things are today with the Indian Child Welfare Act itself from a judicial perspective," she said. "But he also talks from his heart."

The conference will run for three days and include an exhibition from local Native American youth dancers. More information is available at the Native American Training Institute's website, nativeinstitute.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND