White House to Honor Two Native Americans as 'Champions of Change'

Simon Moya-Smith

The White House on Tuesday will honor two Native Americans who are working to inspire youth currently in the throes of the foster care system.

Daryle Conquering Bear Crow, 27, and Eriq Swiftwater, 19, both Oglala Lakota, are two of 12 individuals who were selected by the White House as Champions of Change – a program geared toward recognizing “individuals doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities,” Molly Dillon of the White House Domestic Policy Council wrote in a press release.

The recognition is also meant to highlight the recipients’ commitment to furthering their education. Crow, who is the Healthy Living Program Assistant at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center, is currently a senior studying human development and sports at Oregon State University, and Swiftwater is a freshman at Black Hills State University in South Dakota and studies business education. Swiftwater, who was once a foster child along with his five siblings, mentors students on reservations across the state.

In a conversation with ICTMN, Crow said he entered the foster care system at age three, then again at age 12 before he and three of his six siblings found solace at a foster home in Brighton, Colorado.

Today, Crow said non-Native Americans working in the foster care system need to understand the imperative role of the Indian Child Welfare Act [ICWA], which is a federal mandate meant to ensure the continuity of Native American cultures and languages by forcing courts to consider Native American households first when placing a Native child out of home.

Crow said 10 years ago “no one was talking about ICWA.” But the fact that today people are gives him hope, he said. Among the many advocates for ICWA, Crow also credits President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their commitment to Indian country and its issues.

He said if the conversation concerning ICWA continues this way, “who knows – 20 years from now we won’t have Native kids in foster care.”

But in the meantime, foster care professionals must follow ICWA, Crow said, if anything to save more Native American lives.

“If we can’t follow this Indian Child Welfare Act we’re going to have high suicide rates [and] high drop-out rates,” he said.

In 2011, the White House honored 11 Native American youth leaders as Champions of Change during Native American Heritage Month. The youths, then, were recognized for their work to address issues in their communities.

The White House will live stream the awarding ceremony at 9 a.m. EST on the White House's website. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity Roy L. Austin Jr. will speak at the honoring Tuesday.

May is National Foster Care Month.

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