Fostering little sacred ones

May is National Fostercare Month. Join us for a chat with a woman who earned the title of “Foster Mother of the Year.” Plus, we'll tell you how many Native Americans are working in the White House.
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Shari Pena, who is Cherokee, is a wife and the mother of four who has always wanted to have a large family. Shari said she and her husband Hyrum wanted to be foster parents long before they had biological children. The Pena's have been fostering since 2017.

There are hundreds of staffers who work in the White House. And as President Joe Biden’s administration continues to take shape several Native Americans are being tapped for positions in the White House. Reporter and producer Aliyah Chavez joins the newscast to tell us more.

A slice of our Indigenous world

  • The Air Force is creating two new support groups to help LGBTQ and Indigenous people.
  • A tribe in Southern California is getting into the Las Vegas casino market. 
  • Carina Dominguez reports on one group that is creating a MMIW database for Indigenous people on the east coast.
  • An art exhibit created around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is on display at Connecticut’s Institute for American Indian Studies. 
  • Native families say the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women has been overlooked for years.
  • Voters in a Boston suburb want to keep the high school’s Native American mascot and logo. 
  • The bank owned by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation has bought one of Oklahoma's oldest continually operating state-chartered banks.

Find more details on these stories at the top of today's newscast.

Some quotes from today's show

Shari Pena:

" I've always loved being around children. They are amazing. As a young girl always wanted to have a big family and that was always in the back of my mind. A lot of behaviors they've come from hard places. It's hard to describe it is hard, but it's so rewarding. We've had kids that have come into our homes who were really angry and sad about their situation. But we just kinda loved them and worked through it.  

"I try to keep up with their families after they go home and still have that connection with them. I love to watch them grow and learn. They call me and tell me this is how many children that we have, are you willing to take on this challenge and about a hundred percent of the time I take them in no matter the circumstances behind behaviors and things like that."

"So sometimes it gets a little crazy. The kids, my children get excited, especially my youngest. He likes the role of being a big brother and he does a great job. They all pitch in, they help. My kids are amazing. It's fun and exciting to watch them grow and learn how to take care of children from hard places."

Aliyah Chavez:

"So far there are four Native staffers working at the white house. And I say that with the caveat of one is only working in person due to COVID protocols. And the other three are, much like the rest of us working from our spare bedrooms and our kitchen tables. So the other three are working at home, but nonetheless, all four work in the White House under the Biden administration, sort of, as you mentioned, there are hundreds of staffers and I've always sort of personally wondered what does a White House staffer do?"

"And there's actually a lot behind the scenes that happens under a former presidential administration, I believe it was 80 years ago. They established the executive office of the White House, which essentially gives the president everything he or she needs to govern effectively. And so it's an entire team that writes memos, creates briefs, all of the logistics that a president needs to sort of operate daily. And so in this sort of sea of staffers, we can say that there's four Native people working in the White House."

"So the names of the White House staffers and sort of their positions are very interesting. First, we have Amanda Finney, who's Lumbee and Cherokee, and she works in the press office. She is the chief of staff of the press office and a special assistant to the press secretary, Jen Psaki and the other three staffers sort of work on the policy angles. Their names are Libby Washburn, who's from the Chickasaw nation, and she's a special assistant to the president on Native Affairs. And then we have PaaWee Rivera who's from Pojoaque Pueblo and he's a senior advisor and Tribal Affairs Director in the White House. And then the detail that you mentioned is Tracy Goodluck, she's from the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and Mvskoke Creek and she's a policy advisor to the White House domestic policy council. And she actually full-time works in the Department of the Interior."

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider.

Carina Dominguez, Pascua Yaqui, is a correspondent for Indian Country Today. She’s based in Phoenix and New York. On Twitter: @Carinad7, Instagram: @CarinaNicole7

Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @aliyahjchavez, email: achavez@indiancountrytoday.com

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