Nominate Someone for our Member of the Year Award!

NICWA Member or Program of the Year—Award Guidelines

NICWA members are invited to submit nominations for the Member or Program of the Year Award. This award honors and recognizes either:

  • An individual NICWA member who has demonstrated outstanding service, contributions, and leadership in their profession as well as involvement as a member of NICWA, or
  • A tribal or organizational NICWA member that has an exemplary practice-based program, project, initiative, or policy.

The recipient will receive:

  • An award, to be given during our annual Protecting Our Children National American Indian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect. The recipient will be notified before the event and will be asked to prepare and give a few brief remarks when they accept their award during the event.
  • A complimentary one-year coral-level NICWA membership at the time of their next membership renewal.
  • Recognition on the NICWA website with a short biography and summary of the year’s achievements and recognition in the May membership e-newsletter, as well as in NICWA’s annual report. This will become an ongoing listing on the website as more recipients are recognized. Award recipients will be asked to submit a photograph to be used for award publicity.

Award Eligibility

Nominees must hold a current NICWA held membership. Any individual, tribal, or organizational member of NICWA may be nominated for Member or Program of the Year. Nominees can be self-nominated or nominated by other NICWA members, staff, or board. NICWA board and staff are not eligible for this award during their terms of service and employment.

Award Criteria—Individuals

Individual nominees will be considered based upon their contributions to NICWA during the previous year, including:

  • Volunteerism
  • Committee involvement
  • Participation and engagement as a NICWA member
  • Advancing the mission of NICWA through mentoring students and emerging professionals in American Indian/Alaska Native child welfare or related field and new member recruitment
  • Service to their community
  • Commitment to continued learning, training, and education
  • Leadership
  • Position as a role model to peers
  • Ability to promote networking and communications between NICWA and groups with complimentary missions, goals, and purposes

Award Criteria—Programs

Program nominees will be considered based upon their:

  • Innovation—pushes beyond boundaries and excels in the use of original and creative methods (social media, traditional teachings in modern practice, inventive approach, cutting-edge training, use of technology, etc.)
  • Service values—delivers culturally competent services in partnership with the community they serve
  • Sustainability—ability of the program to be maintained beyond the short-term range
  • Optimization—the ability of the program to optimize resources
  • Relevance—aligns with their mission and strategic goals
  • Social impact—the ability of the innovation to create or effect positive or desirable changes within the community they serve
  • Replicability—has the capacity to be replicated and scaled to different settings

Nomination Process

To nominate an individual or organizational member for this award, complete an application form and mail it to:

Member Services
National Indian Child Welfare Association
5100 SW Macadam Avenue, Suite 300
Portland, OR 97239

Applications may also be emailed to

All submissions must be received by 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, February 14, 2020.

Previous NICWA Members of the Year

2019 Member of the Year: Stephanie Benally (Diné)

Stephanie is the American Indian Specialist at Utah Foster Care and board member for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.  An advocate for improving the foster system in Utah, she conducts community education and outreach to increase the number of Native children in kinship placements and maintain their connections with their families and culture.  She lobbied to get November proclaimed as Navajo Adoption Awareness Month and May as Diné Foster Care Month. A member of the taskforce developing a Utah state ICWA law, she is working to develop a statewide ICWA alert to notify communities when an immediate need arises for a Native foster home for children in Utah.

2018 Program of the Year – New Mexico Tribal Indian Children Welfare Consortium

The New Mexico Tribal Indian Children Welfare Consortium was established in 2015. In a short time, they have managed to do some amazing work which is changing the face of tribal-state relations in the state of New Mexico. The consortium consists of 23 tribes from New Mexico: all 19 Pueblos, 2 Apache Nations, Ramah Navajo, and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in Texas. The consortium advocates for Native children through collaboration and education, and by providing full support to all Tribal, state and federal entities.

2017 Member of the Year: Jill Kehaulani Esch

Jill has long been involved with promoting her Native Hawaiian culture. After moving to Minnesota, Jill has been part of the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association for nearly two decades, as a member, board member, and secretary, as well as fundraising for their Native law scholarships. Her appointment as the Minnesota Ombudsperson for American Indian Families in 2013 is testament to her commitment to our communities. In this role, she investigates complaints for non-compliance of the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act, and statutes, rules, and policies that involve child protection cases. Jill works in conjunction with the state, courts, and 87 counties, schools, and families to improve outcomes for our families. If a case is in Minnesota, she can work with any of the 573 federally recognized tribes to ensure the best outcomes for children and families.

2016 Member of the Year: Frank LaMere (Winnebago)

LaMere’s accomplishments and contributions to Indian Country stretch far and wide. He was a noted social and political activist from Nebraska and founder of the Memorial March to Honor Lost Children. He chaired the Community Initiative for Native Children and Families and facilitates the Four Directions Parenting Program in Sioux City, Iowa. LaMere is well-known as the architect of the movement to stop the illegal flow of alcohol from Whiteclay, Nebraska, to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Furthermore, he was instrumental in the 2003 passage of Iowa’s Indian Child Welfare Act. Among the many accolades, he has earned for his lifetime of service to others are the 2001 Peacemaker of the Year Award from Nebraskans for Peace and the 2011 War Eagle Human Rights Award from the City of Sioux City. Recognized by his home community as a selfless activist, LaMere has been recognized with a legislative resolution by the Nebraska Unicameral. He served as a consultant to several boards and councils including a community health center, the Winnebago Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, and the Briar Cliff University Social Work Program.

2015 Member of the Year Award: Helene Buster (Seminole)

Helene Buster was selected for being a long-time member, donor, supporter of NICWA as well as for her mission-focused leadership she has shown in her community, while spearheading improvements impacting her tribe’s child welfare system.

2015 Program of the Year Award: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s Department of Children and Family Services

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s Department of Children and Family Services Mission: We support the personal health and viability of all our members with a holistic, physical and spiritual approach. We promote respect and consideration of lifestyles, quality of life, community and cultural values including the unique needs and rights of all of our members and community.