Native family advocate honored in Denver

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DENVER – The city mayor and a former city first lady joined to honor Phyllis Bigpond, Yuchi, director of a program that ensures Native children and their families are protected under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Wilma Webb, wife of former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, introduced Bigpond as an award recipient at the 24th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Business Social Responsibility Awards luncheon in the packed ballroom of a downtown hotel.

She was one of four individual awardees and the only Native recipient.

“Phyllis’ life and career are defined by her dedicated service to American Indian families and children,” said a statement at the presentation Jan. 16. “For more than 40 years, she has worked in human services programs for American Indian communities.”

Bigpond founded Denver Indian Family Resource Center in 2000, which has worked with members of 70 different tribes in the metro area “to be sure that American Indian children are in a safe and healthy environment,” she said in an interview.

“Where families have already encountered child abuse or neglect charges, we advocate for active efforts toward family reunification, following the standards of ICWA.”

Among boards and advisory groups to which she belongs are the Denver American Indian Commission, Denver Human Services Family and Children’s Division Advisory Board and the Colorado Child Welfare Action Committee.

Bigpond serves as vice chair of the Colorado Family Resource Center Association and the National Indian Child Welfare Association and is policy committee chair of the National Urban Indian Family Coalition.

She is an alumna of the Denver Community Leadership Forum and has received awards that include the Outstanding Native American Leader from the Association of American Indian Social Work, Distinguished Alumni award from the Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Sewanee Hunt Leadership Award from the Denver Foundation, and the 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award from Metropolitan State College of Denver.

The Western American Indian Chamber and Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber were among event sponsors.