About Conference

41st Annual Protecting Our Children Conference
April 2–5, 2023 — Reno, Nevada

Each year, NICWA hosts the largest national gathering on American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) child advocacy issues. With over 1,400 attendees—and growing every year—this three-day conference has become the premiere national event addressing tribal child welfare and well-being. Keynote speakers range from federal officials at the highest level of government to youth with lived experience in child welfare systems.

NICWA provides meaningful programming to conference attendees, creating a space where participants can learn about the latest developments and best practices from experts in the field and from one another. Participants represent a cross-section of fields and interests including child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice service providers; legal professionals; students; advocates for children; and tribal, state, and federal leaders.

Conference Theme 

Healing Our Spirits: Nurturing and Restoring Hope

As Indigenous peoples, we know a lot about healing. Healing is culturally specific and nonlinear. It happens collectively with our families and communities. It’s not all or nothing, but a life-long journey of reestablishing our balance. Healing starts with truth telling and feeling all of our feelings because we’re strong enough to feel them and survive. We have ways of commemorating loss, grieving, focusing on survival, and expressing gratitude for our ancestors. Our cultures guide us to heal ourselves, our families, and our communities. Through healing ourselves, we can stop the transmission of intergenerational trauma, help families heal together, and protect our children.

Often healing is a natural consequence of culture, relationships, spirituality, and the balance across our mind, body, spirit, and context. We can also intentionally facilitate healing for ourselves and others. Each Indigenous nation’s cultural teachings originated and evolved with our ancestors who were connected with our natural environment and the spiritual realms with teachings that the people needed at the time to survive and thrive. Today, those teachings still exist in many tribes, and even for those whose culture has been devastated or diminished by colonization, they have access to the same spiritual realm that gave the teachings to our ancestors.

Tribal teachings about healing share common elements. Love matters. Culture matters. Our children and elders matter. Keep the ceremonies and recognize the importance of being who we are as groups of human beings. Culture, hope, safety, gratitude, respect, laughter, our medicines, the land, truth, tears, stories, honesty, trust, generosity, spirituality, courage, wisdom, kindness, faith, and love all heal us and are all intertwined. Living these and embedding them in our policies, service structures, practice models, and daily work is the challenge.

In times of uncertainty and stress, when we lose balance and a sense of well-being, we come together in small and large groups. We gather our energy, share burdens and joys, and reaffirm the indispensable truth that we are here and will continue to be here. We are healing ourselves for ourselves, for the seven generations before us, and for the seven generations to come.

Conference Goals:

  • Highlight successful strategies for developing effective services
  • Reveal the latest and most innovative child welfare and children’s mental health service delivery practices
  • Highlight tactics and strategies for financing and sustaining services that impact children
  • Showcase strategies for involving youth and families in developing services and policies that lead to systems change
  • Create peer-to-peer networks that will assist each other in the work toward permanency for all AI/AN families
  • Share the latest research on the well-being of AI/AN children and effective child welfare and children’s mental health services, practices, and policies

Year after year, attendees share their enthusiasm and the value of their time spent together during the NICWA conference.

Who Should Attend?

All individuals who are committed to serving American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children and their families are encouraged to attend. Moreover, many sessions target one or more of these groups:

  • Child welfare workers, directors, and staff from tribal, state, and federal programs
  • Tribal leaders
  • Substance abuse treatment staff
  • Mental health service providers
  • Law enforcement
  • Judges, attorneys, and court and legal staff
  • Teachers, counselors, educators, school administrators, and staff
  • BIA and IHS social service staff
  • Grassroots community organizers
  • Private practice providers
  • Parents, guardians, elders, and extended family members

“I met some wonderful contacts and was able to network with other members and presenters about services and resources that will help me better serve my community.”

“I felt like it was the epitome of being Indigenous, everyone working and moving and collaborating together as one for one main purpose.”

“Thank you so much for the renewed faith, vigor, and hope that we are progressing in our fight to protect our children.”

“This was my first conference. The experience was amazing. I’ve seen a lot of Natives, but to see all of the people here for one thing—our children—I learned a lot from meeting other people here.”