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Thursday, July 7, 2022

America's Original Sin Continues: The Fight Over Native Children #ICWA

The Indian Child Welfare Act pushes for Native children to be adopted by Native families. With its constitutionality challenged, tribal sovereignty hangs in the balance.

Three Navajo children, dressed in traditional clothing, stand barefoot in the grass against the rugged landscape of an unspecified Navajo reservation, United States, circa 1935.
Three Navajo children, dressed in traditional clothing, stand barefoot in the grass against the rugged landscape of an unspecified Navajo reservation, United States, circa 1935.
Illustration: HuffPost; Photos: FPG via Getty Images

In order to keep us from building power to be free and liberated, the strategy is simple: Keep us poor, keep us ignorant, keep us divided and keep us sick.

This game plan likely sounds familiar to many of you, because it is the living legacy of the white supremacy and oppression baked into the social, economic and political systems of the United States. The same strategy used on Native people has been used on Black, brown, Asian and Pacific Islander communities, immigrants, refugees and undocumented folks, and other intersectional identities who, like us, remain targets.

There have been many state-sanctioned forms of violence against Native people. The list includes educational institutions that killed a still-unknown number of our children, soldiers who targeted and slaughtered our ancestors at religious ceremonies, and, more recently, state agencies and nonprofits that practiced enforced sterilization. These have all been part of policy murder against Native people, elements in a centuries-old, calculated and proven political strategy.

In the highest court of the land, the Indian Child Welfare Act is expected to be debated later this year in Brackeen v. Haaland, in what many in the field of federal Indian law are describing as the largest threat to Indian Country and sovereignty in centuries.

When it was passed in 1978, ICWA was landmark legislation, setting unprecedented protections to address the assimilationist policies that led to state child welfare and private adoption agencies systematically removing almost a third of all American Indian and Alaska Native children from their homes. (Yes, almost a third; you read that correctly.) Eighty-five percent of those children were placed in non-Indian homes. ICWA’s constitutionality is now being challenged in a lawsuit brought by Texas, Indiana, Louisiana and various individual plaintiffs. It is the first time a state has sued the federal government over ICWA’s constitutionality.

If ICWA is overturned, a “slew of laws that rest on a centuries-long precedent of tribal sovereignty could be in jeopardy,” as a recent Politico piece put it. Those who support the attack on ICWA would love for all of us to believe that the debate in the Supreme Court over Indian identity is about the protection of Native children. They’d like us to believe that they have the best interests of Indian children at heart. Just like boarding schools were a tactic to demolish the foundation of tribes, assimilate us and destroy any obligation the federal government had to us, the push to overturn ICWA has the same aim ― except this time, the mission is much more insidious.

Scholars and journalists investigating the issues have made it clear that this is part of a plan to build and reclaim conservative power across the United States. All of our futures are at stake, because at the heart of this case are Gibson Dunn, the Goldwater Institute and the Bradley Foundation ― the same set of political players and funders that have brought forward policies that attack our democracy, LGBTQ rights, and the teaching of Juneteenth, Black history and critical race theory, and are among those who defended the Keystone XL pipeline.

But, you might be wondering, how could a child welfare case threaten to topple tribal sovereignty? And what’s behind it? In short, it’s the same thing that threatens us all: a small group of people hoarding resources and power to ensure they keep their unearned privilege ― aka white supremacy.


Letter to the Editor

Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to further strip us of our rights — this absolutely must stop.

One of the acts on their chopping block is the Indian Child Welfare Act (1978). This act protects indigenous children from being taken away, such as they were during the Sixties Scoop, and helps maintain tribal sovereignty (which is the law of the land and codified in the Constitution).

According to the Genocide Convention, the forced removal of children from one group to another group is an act of genocide. The Sixties Scoop was genocide.

To not protect the ICWA would be a continuation of the genocide it was (at least) intended to stop.

Maggie Dimock, North Mankato

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