Native American Tribes Reflect on 42nd Anniversary of Indian Child Welfare Act

WASHINGTON, DC – Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Martin, Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill and Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp issued the following statement to mark the anniversary of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) which was signed into law on Nov. 8, 1978:

“For over four decades, the Indian Child Welfare Act has stood as the gold standard of child welfare laws, ensuring that Indian children remain connected with their kin and communities. To mark ICWA’s anniversary, we celebrate its record of protecting children in our own tribes and in tribes across the U.S. ICWA has successfully served as a process for determining the best interests of Native children in the adoption and foster care systems, helping children and families receive culturally appropriate services and protections.

“It is unfortunate that attacks on this pivotal law continue, but we are confident that the constitutionality of ICWA will prevail, as it has done repeatedly over the past 42 years. We never want to go back to the days when Indian children were ripped away from their families and stripped of their heritage.”

In 2017, individual plaintiffs Chad and Jennifer Brackeen, a couple from Texas, along with the state attorneys general in Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and its now-former Secretary Ryan Zinke to challenge ICWA. The Morongo, Quinault, Oneida and Cherokee tribes intervened as defendants in the case, and their brief can be found here. On August 9, 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the Indian Child Welfare Act is constitutional and serves the best interests of children and families. On October 1, 2019, plaintiffs in Brackeen v. Bernhardt chose to continue their attacks on Indian children and tribal families and requested an en banc rehearing before the Fifth Circuit, which the court granted and was held in January 2020.

There is broad, bipartisan support against this misguided attack on a law that is crucial for protecting the well-being of Indian children and Indian sovereignty, including from the majority of U.S. states, members of Congress, leading child welfare organizations and legal experts.