‘Clear victory’: Tribes in Montana celebrate ICWA ruling (Media Share)

ICWA Ruling - Media Share

This is a media share from a story in the Billings Gazette published June 15, 2023. To read the original article on their website click the below link:


Original Article

Nora Mabie

June 15, 2023

Tribal leaders in Montana are celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The 7-2 ruling represents a win for tribal sovereignty and affirms decades of federal Indian case law.

Commonly called ICWA, the law dictates how Native children are placed in foster or adoptive homes. The law was enacted in 1978 in response to decades of state child welfare and private adoption agencies separating Native children from their families. Even with the law in place, Native children are still disproportionately represented in child welfare systems. 

Frank Edwards, an assistant professor at Rutgers University who studies child welfare, said one of every four Native American children in Montana have a lifetime risk for being in foster care and more than one in 10 Native 1-year-olds are in foster care in the state.

Hundreds of tribes filed an amicus brief in 2019 defending ICWA, and Chrissi Nimmo, deputy attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, a defendant in the case, told Lee Montana newspapers in November that “ICWA is probably the only thing in Indian Country that is universally supported and that tribes agree upon.

“Tribes face lots of issues, but one thing that we know is universally true is you don’t have a tribe if you don’t have tribal members,” she said. “If we don’t have any kids here, our entire tribe could cease to exist.’”

Montanans react

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, who introduced a bill that ultimately codified ICWA into Montana state law, said he was surprised by the court’s decision.

“Just because of the makeup of the court and who appointed who,” he said. “But I’m glad they looked at the facts. Our children have been under attack for years, whether in boarding schools in the U.S. or residential schools in Canada. Protecting our children is very important.”

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder

The ACLU of Montana said the court’s decision affirms that “Native families have a right to stay together.”

“ICWA offers critical and crucial protections for Native children and allows for Indigenous futures to be possible to our most vulnerable,” the organization said in a statement.

Marvin Weatherwax, chairman of the Coalition of Large Tribes, applauded the decision, saying “Our children, children of federally recognized Indian tribes, children of the first peoples, are our most precious resource.”

President of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Jeffrey Stiffarm said children “are our future.”

“They will carry on our traditions and cultures,” he said. “Who better to nurture them and teach them? ICWA allows us to do this by keeping our children with their own people.”

Ta’jin Perez, deputy director of Western Native Voice, said he was “relieved” by the ruling.

“There was a powerful political element here, which aimed to undermine tribes’ existence and undermine centuries of Indian case law … and essentially roll back any sort of progress made towards self-determination and nation-building for tribes,” Perez said. “This is a very clear victory not just for Native children and families in keeping culture and family together, but a clear affirmation of the unique status of tribes.”

Ta’jin Perez, deputy director of Western Native Voice

Perez said he hopes the ruling will inspire others to learn more about ICWA and the historical context in which it was enacted.

“This is an opportunity for everybody to learn more about the unique status of tribes and history therein,” he said. “It shows how contemporary things are based on those relationships established even before the U.S. was a country.”

National leaders and entities also celebrated the decision. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, called the ruling “a welcome affirmation.”

The Protect ICWA Campaign — made up of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund and Association on American Indian Affairs — said the group was “overcome with joy.”

“The positive impact of today’s decision will be felt across generations,” the group said in a statement.