Published: Tuesday, June 07, 2011, 2:05 PM Updated: Tuesday, June 07, 2011, 3:18 PM
Terry L. Cross, founder and executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, based in Southwest Portland, will receive the Embracing the Legacy Award of the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps.
Cross, a member of the Seneca Nation, will be honored Thursday in Boston for “working tirelessly on behalf of American Indian and Alaskan Native children and families to develop and improve child welfare programs and for providing advocacy and helping to implement effective public policy,” Ed Kelley, president and CEO of the action corps, said in a press release.
“Terry represents the ideals and principles of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy,” Kelley said.
“It’s pretty amazing. I’m very honored, as you can imagine,” Cross said in a telephone interview from Washington Dulles International Airport on his way to Boston.
“It was a complete surprise to get the notice,” he said. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”
He said the award underscores the growing awareness of Native American children’s issues in recent years.
“I’ve been working in the field nearly 40 years, and the understanding of issues of Native American children has grown,” he said.
“Early in my career, there were very few people advocating for Native American issues in general, and for Native American children it was pretty sparse.”
The mission of his association is to improve the well-being of Native American children by focusing on providing people working with Indian children the tools and expertise they need, and by advocating for their interests.
“We have been involved in bringing over $3 billion in services to Indian country,” Cross said.
“It has only been in the last 40 years that American Indian people and governments have had the capacity to provide their own services,” he said, citing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.
“So, putting all that into the context of the history of racial oppression in many places, and biased treatment, we have been overcoming those issues.”
He said virtually every tribe in the country has some kind of child welfare service now, from something as simple as a family advocate to a full child welfare program.
They tend to have better results than the former state or county-run programs, he said.
“When you know the families, you can keep children closer to home, and the decisions are better informed,” he said.
What are the issues Native American families face?
“They’re the same issues we’ve faced for a few generations,” Cross said. “To the degree that we could reduce poverty, substance abuse and untreated mental health disorders and trauma, we could improve the lives of Indian children and families.”
The Native American community has come a long way in the last 10 or 15 years, “but we have a long way to go,” he said.
One thing he is focusing on now is using principles of truth, healing and reconciliation.
“So many of the problems have to do with the difficult history with the non-Indian community,” Cross said. “We can go a long way to improving the lives of Indian families by improving those relationships.”