Inter-Governmental Agreement Signed by Utah and the Navajo Nation

Anna Marie Coronado

On Monday, Feb. 4, Governor Gary R. Herbert joined Navajo Nation leaders, the Utah Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and the Office of the Attorney General in signing an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between the State of Utah and the Utah Navajo Nation. The agreement reinforces Utah’s commitment to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and brings newly established structure to the relationship between DCFS and the Utah Navajo Nation.

The purpose of ICWA is to preserve and strengthen Indian families and Indian culture. ICWA establishes “minimum federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and placement in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture.” The IGA builds on these standards and elevates child welfare practices in Utah to specifically meet the needs of Navajo children and the tribes in the state. It clarifies responsibilities and contact protocols, timelines and standards for working with Navajo children and families, and agreed upon placement preferences for Navajo children in foster care or adoption cases.

The agreement, an update to the 2005 IGA between the state and the Navajo Nation, is the result of two years of negotiations between the State of Utah and the Utah Navajo Nation. The negotiation process offered an opportunity for stakeholders to develop distinctive, culturally-relevant solutions within the intergovernmental relationship while strengthening the overall practice of ICWA in Utah.

“I’m grateful to the reps from Utah who worked so well with the Navajo Nation on completing the amendments to the intergovernmental agreement. Both parties were willing to compromise through this effort and stay focused on what is best for Navajo children and families,” Kandis Martine, assistant attorney general for the Navajo Nation said of the negotiation process.

At a time when some states are seeking to weaken or challenge the premise of the Indian Child Welfare Act, Governor Herbert and Utah’s commitment to the strength and success of ICWA is critical, and further demonstrated in the state’s recent decision to join 21 other states in a legal brief filing in support of the law.

“Utah recognizes the value and importance of working to uphold ICWA, and we have found the best way to do this is to sit down with the tribe, at their tribal offices, and work with them on our shared goals,” remarked Alisa Lee, Utah’s ICWA program administrator. “We entered this agreement with the respect that the Navajo Nation are the experts on Navajo children and families.”