In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to stop Indigenous children from being taken from their families.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, “between 25 and 35 percent of all Indian children had been separated from their families and placed in adoptive homes, foster care, or institutions.”
Once forcibly removed and placed in nontribal homes, Indigenous children lost access to their community and culture — further eradicating tribal legacy and traditions. ICWA protects Indigenous children based on a set of federal standards and guidelines before rehoming. These standards reflect Indigenous cultural values and the interests of Indigenous tribes. Under the ICWA, tribes have jurisdiction over child-custody proceedings involving Indigenous children, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Since its passing, ICWA has assisted “tens of thousands of Indian children and families find fairness and healing in state child welfare systems,” per the Native American Rights Fund.
But Congress can do more.
Indigenous children are disproportionately removed from their homes at a consistently higher rate than other children. To make matters worse, the act continues to be inconsistently implemented across the U.S. — with some states offering different rights and protection than others.
In 2001, North Carolina legislation enacted § 143B-139.5A in collaboration with the Division of Social Services (DSS) and the Commission of Indian Affairs to improve outcomes for Native American children in North Carolina. This required DSS to work more closely with the Commission of Indian Affairs on Indian child welfare issues.
Additionally, new training was implemented for DSS social workers, alongside education on the significance of Native American culture and social and historical perspectives.
According to the official North Carolina Department of Administration website, the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs Child Welfare Program has continued educating state and local officials, tribal staff, social services employees and court employees working with Native American children affected by welfare issues, foster care, adoptions and commission by hosting in-service training webinars. The latest ones date back to October 2021.
Still, the Indian Child Welfare Act is under attack. In the fall of 2022, the Haaland v. Brackeen case — a lawsuit alleging that the ICWA is unconstitutional — was presented before the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, the Supreme Court must decide whether or not to overturn the ICWA by the summer of 2023.
If overturned, this would be a devastating blow to the Indigenous community. Yet, a decision this huge is being broadcasted next to nowhere. If it weren’t for advocacy posts on TikTok, I wouldn’t even be writing this article.
Imagine how tired Indigenous communities must feel.
Petition after petition, protest after protest, speech after speech, only to still not be heard. Imagine being stripped of your rightful land, your country and your livelihood. Imagine being proud of your heritage and culture only to be forced to conform to whiteness, shipped off to boarding schools and made to feel as if you are nothing. After being denied almost everything, overturning ICWA would deny Indigenous people the right to even raise their own flesh and blood.
The opposing side of ICWA does not have the best interest of Native American children at heart. They know next to nothing about Native American culture and aren’t in contact with tribal leaders. They cannot even begin to understand the psychological toll of losing your cultural identity, nor do they care.
ICWA is not an attack on white people or how much money you can flash in someone’s face. ICWA is about doing what is right for Indigenous children.
It’s easy to think that nothing can be done from the position you are currently in. It’s even easier to not do anything when a situation doesn’t apply to you. I can sit here and connect ICWA back to our brothers and sisters, family members, friends, and so forth to pull your heartstrings. But, I won’t because I shouldn’t have to.
Children are being taken from their families to live with strangers against their will and it must be stopped. On your computer or the phone you use every day, take less than five minutes of your time to sign some of the many online petitions still circling around — like those organized by the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, the Lakota People's Law Project Action Center and the Association of American Indian Affairs.
More petitions are a quick Google search away. If you are able, you can also donate to the cause.
The best way to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to not overturn ICWA is to spread the word. We shouldn’t continue to let this go unnoticed.
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