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Get to Know: Ronda Jones Tobey (Part 1)

Ronda D. Jones Tobey has been a valued member of the Nonotuck community since 2015. Working as a Clinician in our Cape Cod, Plymouth and Brockton offices, she also serves an important voice on our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) committee. 

Ronda is a member of the Lumbee tribe, and originally hails from North Carolina. In honor of Women’s History Month, we sat down with her about her career of advocacy, innovation and insight.

Tell me about your background- where did you grow up and how did you get here?

I was raised in a small town called Raeford, North Carolina. I’m of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, one of the largest tribes in the United States; it’s the 8th largest tribe in the nation.

I was raised in a pretty diverse community. My mom always had us go to pow wows on the weekend. We were on the go, traveling the country, hitting different tribes, different pow wows. She had us go to North Carolina Native Youth Organization, go to {their} national conference- a tribal youth conference— {where I} met tribes from the whole nation— it gave me a strong foundation of who I am today.

I ended up going to New York City as a head dancer at Bear Mountain Powwow, and eventually took the opportunity to move there. {My diverse background} helped me survive the transition. 

Education was always important in my family. I got my Bachelors and Masters Degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. After 9/11, with the racism that {was taking place} in New York, I knew it was time for me to go back to North Carolina. 

When you returned to North Carolina, you were involved in pushing forward some significant legislation for native children. Tell me about that.

{In Robeson County, North Carolina} 50 percent of the children in foster care were from my tribe. Due to these concerns, I established Red Path Child and Family Agency, the first Native American foster agency in the state of North Carolina; with this platform I helped change the laws there, to allow all tribal members to be under kinship to any child in custody of the State. This helped eliminate the barriers of becoming a foster parent. 

Those unique actions are how I ended up in Cape Cod: the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe asked me to help establish their Health and Human Service Department as their ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) Director. 

As the Mashpee’s new director, I also help changed regulations with the Commonwealth.  By federal law a native child can’t be placed in a non-native American family. In the past, when there was an investigation on a family, {the authorities} weren’t asking whether either or both parents are of Native American ancestry or eligible for membership in the tribe. Children would be placed in a non-native family, and by the time we found out, the child might be connected with their new foster parent; therefore removed from their tribal culture and ceremonies.  To nip that in the bud, this legislation helped get the question asked upfront, so tribes can be aware of the situation and involved in service.

It helps to keep the child in the tribe, not relocating multiple times, and back into a tribal member’s home that they could already be aware of. Plus it keeps them in touch with their tribal routes and tribal family. 

That’s how I met my current husband, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe: that’s why I stayed, because of that relationship.

Read part two of Ronda's Q and A here.

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