Supreme Court News: Protecting the Indian Child Welfare Act

Skye Howell

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What is the Indian Child Welfare Act?

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed in 1978 to ensure that Native children who were removed from their homes were adopted by Native families or community members. 

ICWA was written because as many as 25–30% of Native children were being removed from their homes prior to 1978. The passage of this law was too late for our family.

My father and his 4 siblings were taken from my grandmother when he was only 5 years old.

 My Aunt Gloria remembers that day — over 60 years ago — like it was yesterday. “One day the kids were taken,” she told, “and no one knew where they went or if they would ever be found again.” She shared during our first phone conversation in July of 2022, after finding each other through AncestryDNA. We learned he had 5 more siblings that day, whom she and my Great Uncle had adopted.

We lost our family and access to our language, culture, and traditions overnight. We have also lost two of his siblings to an early death, one sister passed away still searching for my father after being reunited with her other siblings. Reclaiming what was stolen from our family has been a lifelong journey for my father and me.

The Protect ICWA Campaign was established by four national Native organizations: the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and the Native American Rights Fund.

Since the first settlers arrived, Indian children and families have been under attack.

Our Potawatomi tribe has seven bands in the US and three in Canada. During years of violent attacks and theft of land by White settlers, the US army intervened forcing many Potawatomi on what became the Trail of Death in 1838. With Chiefs held captive and little food or water in the heat of summer, over 40 elders and children died along the way when they were forced to march to Oklahoma.

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The Pokagon band was the only band that was not forced on the Trail of Death. Chief Leopold Pokagon made arrangements with the Catholic church to build a mission and convert the tribe to Catholicism, thus protecting them from relocation.

Advocating for the Indian Child Welfare Act

The Indian Child Welfare Act is now being reexamined in the Supreme Court. The Brackeen family is a White couple who adopted a Native child and who are trying to claim they are being discriminated against by ICWA due to their race. They are being represented pro bono by Matthew McGill of Gibson Dunn paid for by Big Oil — the representation responsible for legal proceedings for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Ultimately, this Supreme Court decision impacts tribal sovereignty guaranteed by ICWA and will be used to influence the outcomes of other cases related to tribal land rights.

Opponents of ICWA have a vested interest in the resources and land owned by tribes. They are trying to make the argument that ICWA discriminates based on race. This argument ignores the political status of Native Americans which grants tribal sovereignty as a result of treaties with the US Government. 

“Social workers, child psychologists, children’s advocates, adoption and foster care advocates, and tribes all support ICWA because the Act provides the gold-standard level of protection for Native children. ICWA also allows tribal governments and tribal communities to advocate for the child’s well-being during the trauma of a child custody proceeding,” said NARF Staff Attorney Beth Wright.

The Protect ICWA Campaign was established by four national Native organizations: the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and the Native American Rights Fund.

You can take action in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Share this article and increase awareness. Sign and share this petition to the Supreme Court.

Together we can amplify awareness and advocate for the preservation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

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Skye Howell (she/her) is an Organizational Consultant with Full Humanity, an Equity Advocate, Curriculum Designer, Keynote Speaker, and Storyteller.

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She Speaks In Stories. Potawatomi+Ottawa | Mom+Wife | Medium Partner I Curriculum Designer| Keynote Speaker I Equity Advocate | Community Collaborator

Austin, TX
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