Ranking Member Grijalva, Rep. Peltola, Rep. Gallego Discuss Importance of Indian Child Welfare Act with Expert Panel

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), joined by Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola (D-Alaska) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), held a virtual roundtable to discuss the history and significance of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The roundtable represents the first congressional effort to examine ICWA since the onset of recent litigation.

CLICK HERE to watch a recording of the roundtable.

Prior to passage of ICWA in 1978, American Indian and Alaska Native children were systematically separated from their parents, extended families, and communities by state and private adoption agencies, without evidence of harm or neglect. An overwhelming 85 percent of these children were placed in non-Native homes, isolating them from their culture and community support systems.

ICWA was enacted to provide guidance to state governments in handling child abuse and neglect and adoption cases involving children who hold tribal citizenship by setting minimum standards of accountability and consideration. ICWA has empowered tribal governments and families within state child welfare systems to ensure that the constitutional rights of Native youth are better protected. In recent years, however, ICWA has been subject to litigation alleging unconstitutionality. Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected such arguments, but they have resurfaced in the pending Brackeen v. Haaland case.

“This country has a shameful history of forcibly removing American Indian and Alaska Native children from their families and communities, which is why ICWA was first passed on a bipartisan basis in 1978,” said Ranking Member Grijalva. “It’s been well documented that Native children experience the best outcomes when raised in their own communities with access to their traditional languages and cultures. We must protect ICWA to ensure that Native children’s best interests are at the forefront of child welfare decisions. Attacks against ICWA blatantly ignore the history of intergenerational trauma that it seeks to address and its importance in upholding tribal sovereignty.”

Panelist Quotes

“Like many other child welfare and adoption organizations, Casey Family Programs considers ICWA to be the Gold Standard for child welfare,” said Jack Trope, Senior Director for Indian Child Welfare Programs at Casey Family Programs. “This is because ICWA emphasizes keeping children safely with their parents/guardians whenever possible (active efforts requirement) or, if they cannot be kept with their parents/guardians, keeping them connected with their relatives, communities, and cultures (placement preferences, community standards, transfer to tribal court). We know children thrive with their families and in their communities. In fact, at Casey Family Programs, we have incorporated these principles into the Practice Model that we use for all children and families that we serve at our direct service Field Offices.”

CLICK HERE to read Mr. Trope’s full written statement.

“My value, my self-worth became directly tied to how much I believed my now-adopted parents and family wanted to keep me. And with this driving belief—as a child, as a teen, as a young adult—I didn’t even realize I was hurting myself trying to mold into a person that I would never be and abandoning pieces of myself that were incredibly essential to my well-being and my healing,” said Veronica Krupnick, Foster Youth Advocacy Programs Coordinator of CASA First, on her personal experience in the child welfare system as an Indigenous child. “Instead of finding joy and connection and healing in my identity as an Indigenous person, these were replaced with feelings of guilt, anger, shame, and even embarrassment.”

CLICK HERE to watch Ms. Krupnick’s full statement.

“Native children are the future of Tribes and their identity and culture as a Tribal citizen must be protected,” said the Honorable Karen Returns to War, Co-Chair of the Northern Arapaho Tribe. “Children are tribal communities’ most valuable resource since the language, culture and traditions that make these communities unique are passed down from generation to generation. The Northern Arapaho Tribe supports the Indian Child Welfare Act and is a party to the Amicus brief in support of ICWA filed by the Native American Rights Fund in the Haaland v. Brackeen. Like many of you we await the pending Supreme Court decision and are cautiously optimistic that the ruling will not invalidate any parts of ICWA.”

CLICK HERE to read Co-Chair Returns to War’s full written statement.

“The historical record confirms that the care and education of Native children falls squarely into the constitutional powers of Congress,” said Maggie Blackhawk, Professor of Law, New York University School of Law. “The constitutional challenges to Brackeen are unfounded and could result in the deeply ironic situation where the constitutional values that we have elevated to reckon with other constitutional failures—specifically, the institution of human enslavement and Jim Crown segregation—might be used to further the American colonial project today.”

CLICK HERE to read Prof. Blackhawk’s full written statement.

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