PARTNERSHIP FOR NATIVE CHILDREN

About the PNC

The Partnership for Native Children (PNC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit started by a group of motivated women from across Indian Country who were increasingly concerned with the intense negative media coverage of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and accompanying legal cases. Primarily a group of working attorneys engaged with anti-ICWA litigation around the country, the PNC knows firsthand the children and families ICWA protects, and the devastating consequences of what happens when those families are torn apart.

What Do We Do?
PNC provides accurate information, support, and resources to the media, tribes, and the public regarding Native American children, families, and the laws that protect them from unnecessary breakup.
 
We build the capacity of tribal communities to tell their own stories and advocate for their own children in the media spotlight by providing training and resources, andcreating opportunities for Native people to be included in the national dialogue on ICWA and Native family preservation. We challenge the campaigns of disinformation targeting Native American families and tribes by reaching out to the media and connecting them with experts and families from within Indian Country. And we fight relentless anti-ICWA litigation by collaborating with tribes, families, and tribal organizations to ensure our public education efforts complement their litigation strategies. 

Why Now?
Emboldened by the Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl decision in 2013, an anti-ICWA coalition—led by the for-profit adoption industry, religious coalitions, and a conservative think tank—have teamed up to overturn ICWA. They have spent years bringing forth suit after suit in courts throughout the country, sometimes even using identical briefs in different forums, all in the attempt to have ICWA declared unconstitutional. With the recent Texas v Zinke decision, they have succeeded.

Accompanying these litigation efforts has been a public relations strategy aimed at fomenting hostility toward ICWA and its advocates. These campaigns of misinformation have used divisive, inflammatory public relations tactics to distract from the fact that Native tribes and people and a vast number of national child advocacy organizations and many others overwhelming support ICWA, holding it up as the "gold standard' after which state laws should be modeled.

Instead of acknowledging these facts, ICWA's opponents fund public relations campaigns that take advantage of the general public's lack of familiarity with federal Indian law and child welfare practice. By decrying "racism!", exploiting horrible tragedies within the child welfare system to suit their purpose, and proclaiming that they alone are "saving" Native children from what they claim are the nefarious interests of Native people and Indian tribes, their sensationalism has found traction with the media. PR pandering in stereotype-filled rhetoric set to inflame and divide the public has served anti-ICWA litigation well.  

The founders of PNC grew impatient and intolerant of how long this biased, one-sided narrative about ICWA had been allowed to go on unchecked. Bringing our collective experience together as ICWA attorneys and advocates, we have set forth to challenge the status quo.

PNC’s Goals
  1. Serve as an information hub, disseminating accessible information regarding tribal child welfare, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and current litigation
  2. Build tribes’ capacity to engage in effective and compelling public education, media relations, and communications activities tailored to their specific community’s needs
  3. Give the media accurate information and create lasting connections between journalists and Native experts and spokespeople
  4. Dispel misinformation regarding Native families, communities, and the law propagated by ICWA’s opponents

PNC was started by a group of motivated women from across Indian Country who were increasingly concerned with attacks on the Indian Child Welfare Act. Primarily a group of working attorneys from across the country, the PNC knows firsthand the children and families ICWA protects, and the devastating consequences of what happens to those families when they are ripped apart.

Board of Directors

  1. Victoria Sweet
    Victoria, White Earth Ojibwe descendant, is the assistant director of tribal law and justice consulting with The Whitener Group. She received her JD from Michigan State University College of Law. She is the primary author of an ICWA judicial bench book and provides legal training on ICWA and other areas of federal Indian law to both state and tribal leaders.
  2. April Olson
    April is a partner at Rothstein Donatelli LLP in Tempe, Arizona. She has provided ICWA representation to tribes across the country at the state trial court level and in appellate proceedings. Prior to law school, April did social work for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Her JD is from Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Conner College of Law.
  3. Kathryn E. Fort
    Kate is the director of the Indian Law Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law. She has worked in the area of Indian child welfare for more than 10 years, and has written and practiced extensively in the area. She is the author of forthcoming book, American Indian Children and the Law, from Carolina Academic Press.
  4. Jennifer Whitener Ulrich
    Jennifer holds an MBA in Sustainable Business and is the COO of tribally owned consulting company, The Whitener Group. She has diverse background in Indian Country work including economic development, strategic planning, nonprofit development, entrepreneurial systems, marketing and financial analysis. Jennifer is descendant of Squaxin Island Tribe in Washington State.
  5. Nikki Borchardt-Campbell
    Nikki, Indian Peaks Band of Paiutes of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah/Ute Indian Tribe descendent, serves as the executive director of the National American Indian Court Judges Association. She holds a JD degree and a Certificate in Indian Law from Arizona State University College of Law.
  6. Chrissi Ross Nimmo
    Chrissi is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and has represented the tribe for 10 years in more than 400 ICWA cases, including serving as lead counsel on Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. Chrissi has spoken about ICWA across the country and routinely provides legal training in the area of child welfare. Chrissi is the mother of three Cherokee children.
  7. Sarah Lawson
    Sarah is an enrolled member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and an attorney with Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt. She focuses her practice on Indian law, with over a decade of experience advising tribal governments on a variety of matters. Lawson received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, and is admitted to practice in Washington, Wisconsin and Arizona.
  8. Tamera Begay
    Tamera, Navajo, is an attorney with the Navajo Nation. She received her law degree from Michigan State University College of Law. She has previously worked for the Navajo Nation's Washington Office, National Congress of American Indians, and Office of Tribal Justice at the Department of Justice.