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  Written by
  Charlotte Snow

  Photography by
  Lloyd DeGrane

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  > > Minds at work
  > > The stuff of tears
  > > Native Chicago

Action anthropologist Terry Straus works with the city's Native Americans as they strive to preserve their heritage and determine their future.

image: "Native Chicago" headlineAbout five years ago, Roxy Grignon heard someone calling her name from outside her Chicago apartment. Looking down from her second-floor window, she saw a young woman. When Grignon buzzed the woman up, she realized that she was holding a baby. The mother told her how she was struggling with drugs and had spent the night on the street. Grignon felt she had to help, as both she and the mother shared a Native-American heritage and had known each other previously on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin. With three grown daughters of her own, Grignon became a licensed foster parent and has since adopted the boy.

image: NAFPA's Roxy Grignon and DCFS administrator Robert Mindell (Lloyd DeGrane)As word spread, Grignon soon got more such pleas for help. Overwhelmed, she began asking other Native Americans to serve as foster parents. Then in 1997, the former entrepreneur and probation officer formed the Native American Foster Parents Association (NAFPA), which has since helped license 21 Native-American foster homes throughout Illinois, with 59 licenses pending.

The group has also designed a curriculum for social workers and juvenile-court personnel on Native-American culture and the intent of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which sought to end decades of placing Native-American children in non-Native-American homes. A recent meeting with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is expected to establish a protocol for linking the more than 130 Native-American children in the state's foster-care system with Native-American families. "This is important for the children's culture and their identity," says Grignon, "and for the future of our people."

Anthropologist Anne Terry Sawyier Straus, AM'70, PhD'76, advises NAFPA on financial and legal issues, helps it recruit Native Americans to serve as foster parents, and advocates on its behalf. The group, says Straus, a University of Chicago professorial lecturer, is an example of the vibrancy and renewed activism of the city's Native Americans at the end of the 20th century. "They are forcing the issue of who should raise Indian children," she says, "and they are the only group that has set about to educate social workers about the law and to recruit foster parents. Their work shows how this is an era of self-determination for Indian people."

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