OKMULGEE, Okla.- The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1978. The recent Haaland v. Brackeen case challenged the law, with petitioners arguing that ICWA was unconstitutional and that it violated the anti-commandeering principle of the Tenth Amendment. This case started on November 9, 2022 and wrapped up June 15. The Supreme Court voted to make the decision on June 15, 2023 to uphold ICWA, 7-2.
If a Native American child who is an enrolled citizen of a federally recognized tribe is removed from their family, this law stops the prolonged action of the child being adopted by a non-tribal family. The law gives their extended families, and tribal citizens the ability to adopt or foster that child before options outside the tribe are explored.
ICWA helps Native children stay within tribal families to maintain the connection with their Native community and culture. The law states that it was enacted for the best interests for the children; to retain their cultural identity.
According to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the actions of institutions outside of Native American tribes in the past still have ripple effects in the present.
“For nearly two centuries, federal policies promoted the forced removal of Indian children from their families and communities through boarding schools, foster care, and adoption. Those policies were a targeted attack on the existence of Tribes, and they inflicted trauma on children, families and communities that people continue to feel today,” Haaland said. “The Act (ICWA) ensured that the United States’ new policy would be to meet its legal and moral obligations to protect Indian children and families, and safeguard the future of Indian tribes.”
A statement from Principal Chief David Hill on the ruling states, “For centuries tribal nations have been fighting to govern as sovereigns to protect our own, and the very core of that is being upheld by this decision. Today’s decision strengthens our ability to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
MCN Attorney General Geri Wisner echoed Chief Hill’s statement, stating “Today, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision that clearly upheld and defended the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Brackeen ruling acknowledged what Tribal Nations have known all along: that the Indian Child Welfare Act does not exceed federal authority; does not infringe upon state sovereignty; nor does it discriminate upon the basis of race. Today is a good day for our Indian Nations, families and children.”
MCN Children and Family Services Administration Director Michelle Bender, who has worked on the front lines of the fight to keep Mvskoke children within Mvskoke families commended the court’s ruling as well.
“The Muscogee (Creek) Nation strongly believes in the importance of protecting and preserving the Nation’s strongest resources, our children and families. We are pleased and applaud today’s ruling. The Nation believes ICWA is constitutional, necessary, and inherently upholds the sovereignty of the Nation by keeping Native children and families together. With upholding ICWA, the United State Supreme Court continued to uphold the United States’ promise to protect Native American children and families.” Bender said.
ICWA is set to continue to help Native children preserve their traditions and grow up within their communities.