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Monday, August 8, 2022

My family was torn apart before the Indian Child Welfare Act passed. Will SCOTUS upend it?


Terria Smith is editor of News from Native California magazine and a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. She is also a member of The Desert Sun Editorial Board. Email her at

(EXCERPT) I support ICWA too. But to me a ruling upholding ICWA in the Brackeen v. Haaland case is not just about doing the right thing for tribal children. For me, it is very personal.

Around 1949, when my mother was an infant and her older brother was about 5 years old, they were taken from their home on the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Reservation. At the time, my uncle only spoke Cahuilla. They went to live in a foster home with a non-Native family in Riverside. The parents of this family did not treat my mother and uncle like their own. They did not love them. They took them in for the foster care money. They were especially mean to my mother.

The foster parents made it very clear that my mother and her brother were not part of their family. The resounding message that came from the community that my mother and uncle grew up in was that they were different.

My mother grew up wondering where she belonged and who her real family was. What she didn’t know was that just on the other side of the county, her real family never forgot about her and her brother. And when she was a teenager, her only sister — my aunt — found her and eventually brought her back to our people. But irreparable damage was already done. My mother and uncle lost their tribal language. They lost years with some of their closest family members (many even passed away before they had the chance to meet them). They had to relearn our customs and traditions. There is a deep emotional wound of just being wronged.

There are thousands of cases out there like my mother’s.


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