Through emergency regulations, the governor has set in motion a new policy to streamline adoptions for Alaska Native children.

Gov. Bill Walker says the emergency regulations for the Office of Children’s Services will make it more likely that Native foster children will be adopted by Native or American Indian families. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) emphasizes the preference for a child’s placement within their tribe in order to preserve the link to their culture and heritage.

“Alaska Native children make up about 20 percent of our population, but more than 60 percent of children in out-of-home placements are Alaska Native,” said Department of Health & Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson in a prepared statement. “Quyana (thank you) Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Mallott for taking these two very important steps toward addressing that disproportionality.”

The governor eventually hopes to pass legislation to make tribal participation in adoptions easier.

“This is very important to me,” Walker said in a prepared statement. “What’s good for Alaska Native children is good for all children. What’s good for Alaska’s children is good for Alaska.”

After decades of court battles with the state over jurisdiction in Native adoptions, the Alaska Federation of Natives called the new regulations a milestone.

“It’s critically important,” said AFN President Julie Kitka. “But it is, it’s a problem working together and fixing it. That’s what we’re most proud of. It’s a new message from the governor and the Native community, and we’re proud to be part of it.”

The governor said he hoped this step would help to improve the state’s relationship with tribes and other Alaska Native groups.

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