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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Indian Child Welfare Act: The Real Tragedy Is That It’s Not Enforced

Casey Jo Caswell of Lansing, Mich. made a terrible mistake. Homeless and jobless, she turned to Michigan’s child welfare agency for help raising her son, Ricky.
But the agency offered no help with housing, no help with a job and no help with education. They told her to surrender the child to “temporary” foster care, and then rushed to terminate her parental rights.
Ricky was placed with middle class foster parents in a nice, big home. First it was as a foster child, then it became his adoptive home.
Once, during a counseling session, The Detroit News reported, the boy was playing with two plastic horses when he said: “This little horse is going to die if he can’t be with his mother.” That proved prophetic. Ricky Holland’s white adoptive parents murdered him. They stuffed his body in a trash bag and left it by the side of a road.
Yet in all the years since, no one has suggested that, because of this horror story, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), the law that spurred the rush to place Ricky in the home where he was adopted to death, should be repealed or curbed. That’s understandable. There’s an excellent case for curbing ASFA, but it shouldn’t be built on horror stories that unfairly stigmatize entire groups.
Yet Marie Cohen offers a similar horror story involving a Native American home (recycled from the Goldwater Institute) as the only evidence in support of her claim that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) should be curbed. Or maybe should never have been passed at all; she’s not clear about that.
Cohen dismisses in a single sentence the horrors inflicted on Native American children that led to passage of ICWA. In fact, from the 19th century through the 1960s, American child welfare agencies tried to effectively eradicate Indian culture and, indeed, Indian tribes, by simply taking away children.
First, they were warehoused in hideous orphanages. Later, there was a campaign of mass adoptions. Melissa Harris Perry called the orphanages an “explicit cultural extermination mission.”

By the mid-20th century, people stopped actually saying “kill the Indian, save the child.” But it took ICWA to change practice, and it hasn’t changed nearly enough.

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Indian Country is under attack. Native tribes and people are fighting hard for justice. There is need for legal assistance across Indian Country, and NARF is doing as much as we can. With your help, we have fought for 48 years and we continue to fight.

It is hard to understand the extent of the attacks on Indian Country. We are sending a short series of emails this month with a few examples of attacks that are happening across Indian Country and how we are standing firm for justice.

Today, we look at recent effort to undo laws put in place to protect Native American children and families. All children deserve to be raised by loving families and communities. In the 1970s, Congress realized that state agencies and courts were disproportionately removing American Indian and Alaska Native children from their families. Often these devastating removals were due to an inability or unwillingness to understand Native cultures, where family is defined broadly and raising children is a shared responsibility. To stop these destructive practices, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

After forty years, ICWA has proven to be largely successful and many states have passed their own ICWAs. This success, however, is now being challenged by large, well-financed opponents who are actively and aggressively seeking to undermine ICWA’s protections for Native children. We are seeing lawsuits across the United States that challenge ICWA’s protections. NARF is working with partners to defend the rights of Native children and families.

Indian Country is under attack. We need you. Please join the ranks of Modern Day Warriors. Please donate today to help Native people protect their rights.

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