Native American Tribes Respond to Continued Attacks on the Indian Child Welfare Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, 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 in response to plaintiffs’ request to rehear the case against the Indian Children Welfare Act:

“Today, plaintiffs in Brackeen v. Bernhardt chose to continue their attacks on Indian children and tribal families. It is time for these misguided attacks on the Indian Child Welfare Act to end. We won our case in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on the merits because ICWA is constitutional. ICWA ensures that there is a process in place that keeps children close to their tribal communities, which gives them a sense of identity and belonging that cannot be found elsewhere. It is because of the importance of this critical law that we will continue defending these children. We will remain steadfast in defense of ICWA, no matter what it takes.”

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 Brackeen v. Bernhardt.

In October 2018, a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas struck down much of ICWA. Defendants appealed the lower court’s decision and asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the decision. Last December, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay requested by the defendants, putting a hold on the ruling. In March 2019, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from plaintiffs and defendants in the Brackeen case.

On August 9, 2019, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the Indian Child Welfare Act is constitutional and serves the best interests of children and families.

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. A total of 21 attorneys general, representing a broad range of states, filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants, arguing that ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s authority to legislate in the field of Indian affairs and does not violate the Tenth Amendment or equal protection laws. The Trump administration has also reiterated its support for ICWA, tribal sovereignty and the safety of Indian children.

An additional 325 tribes, 57 tribal organizations, members of Congress, Indian law and constitutional law scholars, and 30 leading child welfare organizations have also filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the defendants.