Amara is relieved the Supreme Court today affirmed tribal sovereignty by upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act. ICWA is a necessary protection for Native American children, families, and culture. Native families endured decades of forced family separation that sent Indian children to harsh, abusive “boarding schools” where any expression of their tribal culture was forbidden.
After the schools were closed, America’s child welfare system separated thousands of Native children from their families and placed most of them in non-Native adoptions. ICWA, enacted in 1978, establishes tribal sovereignty in Indian child welfare cases and requires state child welfare systems to make every effort to place Native children who cannot live safely at home with extended family, or another family from their tribe if no extended family can be found. If those two options are not possible, the child must be placed with another Native family from another tribe. Only after all these options are exhausted can a Native child be placed in a non-Native home.
While we applaud today’s SCOTUS decision, we also know that more work remains in keeping Native children, and all BIPOC children, connected to their families and culture when they are in the child welfare system. We will continue our work to create and strengthen these connections wherever possible and to advocate for changes in the system so it not only recognizes the need for family connections, it also actively supports them.