Building an Effective Tribal-State Child Welfare Partnership

The history of colonization, including broken treaties, stolen children, and resistance to tribal sovereignty, is the reason tribes, in general, do not trust the State. This deep level of mistrust cannot be ignored when bringing tribal and state folks together and the driving motivation for coming together in spite of the mistrust needs to be identified and elevated. It is helpful for the group to agree to operate under the best possible assumptions about each other; to believe that all those around the table are good people whose life experiences make them unique and owners of varying levels of unresolved trauma and, to consistently give each other the benefit of the doubt. The key is for group members to allow each other to bring their whole selves into the process and to provide guidance and feedback to help members expand and deepen their understanding of each other. This increases support and moves the work forward.

It is essential for the working group to be a cohesive unit to be able to withstand the challenges inherent in cross-cultural collaboration. Critical to this is a mutual respect, admiration, and love for each other. Essentially, the working group is challenging and rewriting the dominant narrative about tribal-state relations, an effort that will be met with resistance that will come in many forms. Both tribal and state members may encounter opposition from agency and community members. Providing space and time for members to check in and listen to each other share their fears and hopes is a good practice to embed into the culture of the working group; these rituals are important.

A Message to Native People

Hear from Esther Anne as she discusses her thoughts on tribal-state collaborations.

Monthly Profile

Learn about a Tribal-State partnership in this revolving monthly feature. This month we feature “What Happened in Maine”.


The Tribal-State Partnership Toolkit provides resources to support developing partnerships between tribal and state (or county) agencies and staff.

A Message to Non-Native People

Penthea Burns provides a message to non-Native partners in tribal-state collaborations.

Resource Highlight

The Children’s Bureau, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, funds the Capacity Building Center for Tribes under CB Grant Number 90CZ0026.