When ICWA is Followed, Children Can Thrive: One Mother’s Story

Ahnee. My name in English is Allie Greenleaf Maldonado, but my ancestors know me as Greenleaf Talking because when I speak, I speak for my people. I am a citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and a member of the mshiikenh or turtle clan. I want to tell a personal story about how the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) has impacted my life.

I am looking at a picture of a beautiful little boy who is a citizen of the Little River Band of Odawa Indians. He is my son. He became my son because of ICWA.

His 14-year-old biological mother ran away to Nevada where she gave birth. The State of Nevada immediately took custody of the baby and placed him into a non-relative, non-Indian placement. However, the Little River Band was properly notified and the tribe intervened. The good people of Nevada wanted to follow ICWA and so they asked the tribe for an appropriate placement.

If they had not followed ICWA, under Nevada law, the family that brought him home from the hospital would have maintained custody and would have had the first right to adopt him if no family members came forward. They were very nice people, great people, but they had no ties to the Native community whatsoever. My son would have been brought up thousands of miles from his tribe and his culture but for ICWA.

However, because he is Indian, and Nevada followed federal law, he was transported back to Michigan and placed into foster care with my husband and me. I am from a sister tribe and member of the same clan as my son, so the tribe decided we were an appropriate placement. After about two years of trying to reunite him with his birth mother, both birth parents voluntarily gave up their parental rights and we were allowed to adopt him.

Because of ICWA, my son is growing up with his culture. He is seven now and his culture and community are very important to him. He goes to pow wows, we regularly attend tribal community events, he is learning about traditional medicines and I am very proud that my son is a Snow Snake champion. Snow Snake is a traditional game in our tribe.

It is also of the utmost importance that my son is being raised to be a good citizen of the Little River Band and the United States. When my son turns 18 and can vote about the wolf hunt in Michigan, he is going to understand why his people oppose the hunt. He will know that ma’ iinganisour cousin. When he votes on the fishing and treaty rights, he will be informed because his elders have told him why the fish are so important to us and why they must be protected. He has the possibility now of becoming a leader in his community. He is potentially the next generation of tribal leadership.

None of that would have been possible if good people didn’t follow ICWA.

Thank you very much, chi miigwetch, for letting me share my story.

Allie Greenleaf Maldonado
Chief Judge
Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

Turtle Clan

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