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Determining whether a child is Navajo during adoption is getting quicker

The Navajo Nation announced it has streamlined a process to determine if a child eligible for adoption is Navajo — a change it hopes will strengthen the Indian Child Welfare Act that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Navajo President Buu Nygren signed a memorandum of agreement to expedite the determination of whether a child is Navajo for in-state custody cases.

Previously, this step has taken months. Now, it will take weeks. The move is significant for the tribe, said Thomas Cody, director of the Navajo Division of Social Services.

"So, the streamlining, now it’s weeks. It will really help us, and it will help that child that’s been picked up to make sure that they’re a Navajo child," he said.

For some context, Cody cited the latest statistics from 2021 when 1,069 cases involving nearly 2,000 children were referred to his office. Of those, 205 were Navajo children.

The faster process bolsters protections for children under the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Supreme Court upheld the act this summer, but implementing those protections has been slow.

The original law was intended to protect Native American children removed from their homes and communities; and was considered an essential way to stop forced assimilation of Native children. The high court ruling means Native families have preference in adoption cases.

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Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.