National Child Welfare Association

Positive Indian Parenting

Darlene Foster is a group facilitator at the Native American Rehabilitation Association (NARA) of the Northwest, which has been in Portland, Oregon since 1970. NARA provides an urban American Indian health clinic, outpatient counseling, a child development center, and an adult residential substance abuse treatment center, among other services. She uses the Positive Indian Parenting curriculum, which was written and developed by NICWA staff, to help clients regain a connection with their culture and learn a blend of old parenting patterns and new skills.

“Our own people taught us you need to be careful when you’re pregnant... Now science is showing this, too.”

Darlene’s first experience with the Positive Indian Parenting curriculum was as a student. Having grown up in a traditional American Indian family, many of the rituals described in the class, such as receiving an Indian name, were familiar to her. She remembered how she felt when her aunt presented her with her cradleboard and when she saw her cousins being honored for their first kill. Before the class, she had not connected these traditions to parenting. After taking the class, she understood how these experiences had affected her, and saw the value of repeating them with her children.

As a NARA facilitator, Darlene now presents the Positive Indian Parenting curriculum to NARA residential patients twice a week. Her students come from tribal and urban communities across the U.S. Many were adopted by non-Indian families and come into the class feeling like they do not have a connection to American Indian culture. Many of her students are learning for first time how to parent, and for the first time are experiencing what it’s like to give and receive praise.

Darlene received training from NICWA to help her be an effective facilitator, but she also draws on her own experiences as a student to help her when she’s teaching. In one activity, some students close their eyes while others whisper things they wished they had heard as a child. “When I sat in that circle, I felt like I was hearing from my ancestors,” Darlene says, encouraging her students to share how they felt. This activity fosters discussion about the needs of children and how parents can meet those needs.

“When I sat in that circle, I felt like I was hearing from my ancestors.”

Especially important for her audience is the how the curriculum can help clients understand the importance of not using drugs and alcohol while pregnant. “Our own people taught us you need to be careful when you’re pregnant,” Darlene says. “Our children are important. Our pregnant women are important. Now science is showing this, too.” The connection between American Indian traditional values and modern science has a strong impact on the students, many of whom may already have a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAS/FAE) child or have been an FAS/FAE child themselves.

Darlene credits the NICWA curriculum with the remarkable change she sees in her students. She often hears, “I’ve found my Native side,” and “I didn’t know I had spirituality.” Most importantly, students tell her, “This is something I carry forward and share with my children and grandchildren.”