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LEADERS WORK TO LINK YOUTHS TO TRIBES

Idaho's Indian youths soon will have a better shot at staying in touch with their tribes.

State and tribal leaders are working on ways to make sure those children are not driven from their own culture by adoption, alcoholism and ambivalence."Most of the children on our reservation have plans of leaving," said Pete Putra, a day-care director on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Nevada border.

"I left when I could. I wasn't into the culture. But, after I graduated from (Boise State University) last year, I came back. I think there's hope for the Indian people."

Putra said some Indian children are being attracted to their culture through powwows, such as one held Friday night in Boise.

Up to one-third of the nation's Indian children live with foster families, according to the Association on American Indian Affairs. About 90 percent of those families are white.

Based on 1990 U.S. Census figures, Idaho has 800 of its 3,000 Indian children living with foster families.

Idaho Legal Aid Service's Indian Law Unit this month settled a lawsuit with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The state agreed to comply with the 1978 federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which was intended to keep them in Indian communities when possible.

The new methods may prevent future custody battles, such as the one over 6-year-old Casey Swenson of Nampa. The Oglala Sioux tribe of South Dakota is seeking custody of Casey, who was adopted by a white couple. The case is before the Idaho Supreme Court.

But the state can only do so much for Indian children. The tribes are working on their own ways to pass on their culture.

This week, Health and Welfare invited leaders from the state's six tribes to the Idaho Indian Child Welfare Conference in Boise.

"Values have been infected by the culture of alcoholism," said Bill Hayne, an instructor at Lewis and Clark State College who grew up on the Blackfoot reservation.