Advocates celebrate new protections for Native children in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico has passed new protections for Native children, providing more assurance they can remain within tribal communities if their parents cannot take care of them.

There are federal protections for these issues, but many had feared they could come to an end because of legal challenges from non-Native families. Now, New Mexico has passed a law that would keep these protections in the state even if the federal rules go away.

Many gathered at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque Friday to celebrate the passage, including 14-year-old Than Povi Baca. After her mother was murdered, she was adopted on the Santa Clara Pueblo. She said the federal protections, solidified now on the state level with the Indian Family Protection Act, are the reason for her success story.

"I wouldn’t be in my community, my pueblo," she said. "I wouldn’t have met my real uncles and aunties."

Advocates said the new state law actually protects Native families more than the federal version.

"[It] allows for tribes to get involved at any point during an adoption or placement process," said Angel Charley, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women.

Jacqueline Yalch, president of the New Mexico Tribal Indian Child Welfare Consortium, said the current rules aren’t always followed even now, and this new action from the state will really help hundreds of children a year.

"They are our children. The community wants to help support these children and raise their children," Yalch said. "Give them the opportunity that they have that tribal right to."

The federal protections – the Indian Child Welfare Act – is facing multiple challenges right now, including in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments, although there’s no date set yet.