SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (WJMN) – Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians Chairman Austin Lowes voiced support in a release on Thursday of newly introduced bills in the Michigan Legislature that would expand eligibility for the Guardian Assistance Program.

Lowes was joined by other tribal leaders in the state in calling for lawmakers to support the bills that would that would ensure children and their guardians involved in tribal court systems receive access to the same support as those in state courts. The Guardianship Assistance Program provides financial support for families who provide permanent guardianship for children when adoption or family re-unification are not appropriate options.

Children with guardianship orders from tribal courts, as well as children who have guardianship orders from other states, are currently ineligible for the program. Senate Bills 137 and 138 introduced Thursday by Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) would make Michigan families eligible for the program regardless of the court that orders a child’s guardianship.

“Children who are appointed a guardian often have been through some underlying family issues, and they deserve equal treatment under the law regardless of which court has heard their case,” said Chairman Lowes. “This legislation will guarantee that a Native child and their guardian have access to the same financial assistance and support services through the Guardianship Assistance Program as anyone else in Michigan, and I urge the legislature to move these bills quickly to ensure that no one is denied the resources they need.”

Chairman Lowes, a trained social worker, noted the importance of introducing the change in the near future.

“We know of at least 10 Sault Tribe families and many other Native families from around the state who have been impacted by the current laws on Guardianship Assistance Program benefits because their cases involve a tribal rather than a state court,” said Chairman Lowes. “When this happens, children remain in unfamiliar foster homes rather than in the home of a close relative, and those foster families may not uphold tribal cultures or customs.”

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety where a hearing is expected to be held in the coming weeks.