Indian Child Welfare Act Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

On June 15, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Tewa Women United celebrates this decision, along with many other Native-led organizations.

ICWA was established as U.S. federal law in 1978. Prior to ICWA, the integrity of Native families was being devastated by state and locally sanctioned child welfare and adoption agencies who were removing Indian children from their families at an alarming and disproportionate rate. The Association on American Indian Affairs completed two studies in 1969 and 1974 exposing that 25 to 35% of all Indian children had been separated from their families and placed in foster homes, adoptive homes or institutions, and 90 percent of those placements were in non-Indian homes. The Association’s research and advocacy directly led to the passage and enactment of ICWA.

“To have federal law and state law uphold the rights of Native women and children in keeping families intact — keeping them tied to their culture — just really helps to maintain that culture,” said Dr. Corrine Sanchez, Executive Director of Tewa Women United. Dr. Sanchez noted that ICWA safeguards Native children’s right to access their cultural heritage, pushing against the U.S.’s history of Native American boarding schools and other efforts at cultural genocide (source: Santa Fe New Mexican, June 15, 2023).

The Supreme Court’s decision extends beyond this particular case to support centuries of legal precedent upholding rights to Tribal sovereignty. The consequences of this decision ripple out in profound ways, as Jade Begay, Policy and Advocacy Director for NDN Collective, observed on Twitter: “I don’t think the world realizes that safeguarding the ability of Tribal members to raise their children w/o interference is critical to protecting life on this planet, biodiversity & our climate. Upholding #ICWA will have impacts beyond our Tribal Nations for generations to come.”

A coalition of organizations, networks, and individuals came together before Haaland v Brackeen was heard by the court in November 2022, and continued to work over these past months to educate the public on the importance of ICWA and to mobilize citizens to act to protect it. Some of the groups who were instrumental in this victory include the Association of American Indian Affairs, National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Child Welfare Association, Native American Rights Fund, and NDN Collective.

Once again we are reminded of the power of coming together in solidarity to take care of and defend what is most important to us. We are grateful for all the work that went into this campaign to protect ICWA, so that our children and families can remain strong in their connection with their culture and traditions.

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