Published April 30, 2018
WINDOW ROCK – On April 26, 2018 the Navajo Nation filed its Motion to Intervene and Dismiss with the federal district court in Texas v. Zinke. The case is a constitutional challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by the states of Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana. It relies on a Texas state ICWA case concerning the placement of a Navajo child with a non-native family. In its motions the Nation argues that a decision for Texas would negatively affect the Nation’s relationship with this child and numerous Navajo children throughout the country. The Nation asks the court to dismiss the case because it is not a party, and it cannot be made a party, due to its sovereign immunity.
ICWA was passed by Congress in 1978 to stop the mass removal of Indian children from Native families and facilitated placement of those children with non-Natives. Congress found ICWA to be necessary because Indian children are the future of their tribes, and so their removal threatens the very existence of tribes. ICWA provides tribes and tribal members rights to protect their interests in their children.
In the Texas case the Nation located a Navajo family to adopt the Navajo child. However, the non-Native foster parents refused to allow the removal of the child, filing multiple court challenges to the placement of the Navajo child with the Navajo family, including the Texas v. Zinke challenge. The actions by the foster parents have prevented the Navajo child from growing up in his Navajo culture, language and community, and has prevented the Nation from maintaining a vital connection to one of its members.
“The Navajo Nation is committed to the protection of all its children, wherever they may live” commented Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. “We want all Navajo children to have the opportunity to know their people, their traditions, and their language. As this lawsuit shows, we will continue to fight for them. We want them to know they are not forgotten, no matter where they may live.”
“Our children are the future of the Navajo Nation,” noted Vice-President Jonathan Nez. “They are the ones who will take our elders teachings and pass them down for generations to come. I am disappointed by the actions of the plaintiffs in this case who are attempting to sever the connection between Navajo children and our way of life teachings.”
“Keeping our children with Diné families keeps our language and culture with our most valuable children” stated Navajo Nation Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown. “The future of our Nation depends on our children. They are the ones who will carry on our traditions and our ways. The actions taken by the foster parents and the State of Texas have deprived this precious Navajo child of a connection to his Navajo culture and tribe.”
“ICWA was meant to prevent the exact situation in this case: the wresting of an Indian child from his people” noted Attorney General Branch. “ICWA’s entire purpose is to maintain and preserve the connection between an Indian child and her tribe. This year is ICWA’s 40th anniversary; we should be celebrating the success of ICWA, not having to defend ICWA and the basic human right of Navajo families and communities to remain intact. There should be no question to our right to remain distinctly Navajo through the passage of our culture, language, and treaty and sovereign rights to our children.”