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This announcement comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide the fate of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), America's landmark federal protection for Indigenous families and tribes. The 1978 law sought to combat cultural genocide and family separation following centuries of forced Indian boarding school attendance and adoptions by white families.
Those historic injustices led to the removal of as many as 35% of children from their families, according to surveys conducted in 1968 and 1974 by the Association on American Indian Affairs.
While The Imprint has produced enterprise reporting on Indigenous child welfare for years, this new venture will dramatically increase the scope and depth of its work on this important subject.
"Shining a light on the legal challenges to ICWA, and the barriers to family well-being in the Indigenous community, will be front and center in our reporting," said John Kelly, co-executive director of Fostering Media Connections, the nonprofit media group that publishes The Imprint. "But we are equally passionate, if not more so, about lifting up stories about the many successful approaches to family support that everyone in this space should know about."
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Nancy Marie Spears will serve as The Imprint's full-time reporter on this beat. Spears is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation who recently earned her bachelor's degree in journalism with distinction from the University of Oklahoma. She has received top honors from the Native American Journalists Association, including two first-place awards and one second-place prize for her coverage of environmental, health and elder issues in Native American communities.
Spears' experience in investigative reporting and data journalism includes contributions to a nationwide map tracking the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on Indigenous communities that was co-produced by Indian Country Today and Johns Hopkins American Indian Health Center.
"If there is one thing I've learned in my years of experience so far covering Indigenous affairs, it's that children are one of the most precious pieces of our communities," Spears said. "I'm immensely grateful to be backed by a nonprofit news organization that both shares my investment in these communities, and supports my vision for what this beat can be."
This new reporting project was made possible with support from Casey Family Programs, a national operating foundation focused on safely reducing the need for foster care and improving child and family well being. The foundation has a long history of working with tribes in their efforts to improve child and family well-being.
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"We know that children thrive when their family, community and cultural connections are strengthened and preserved. These values and practices are exemplified in the Indian Child Welfare Act," said Dr. Zeinab Chahine, executive vice president of Child and Family Services at Casey Family Programs. "We are pleased to partner with The Imprint as it focuses on ICWA and the well-being of native families and communities."
The Imprint is published by Fostering Media Connections, which will pair reporting on these issues with its Youth Voice program. Youth Voice seeks to uplift the written and spoken work of youth with lived experience in the child welfare system while teaching them about the journalism profession. The organization plans to establish a Tribal Youth Voice Contributor program to feature the work of Native American youth (ages 18 to 26) who are or were impacted by child welfare systems in America.
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