Mountain West Tribes And States Join Indian Child Welfare Act Lawsuit

Apr 4, 2019

So far, 325 tribes and states, including Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado, have joined forces to preserve a law that gives Native families preference in adoption of Native children.

Texas, Indiana and Louisiana argue the Indian Child Welfare Act creates a special and unequal status for Native children that's unconstitutional. A Texas judge sided with them last December, but a federal appeals court is keeping the law in place while it considers.

Eastern Shoshone councilman Leslie Shakespeare from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming said, before the 1978 law was adopted, there was a long history of removing Native children from the reservation. Even after the boarding school era, there was the Indian Adoption Project of the 1950's and 60's.

"It was actually a term, Indian extraction, where they took Indian children," said Shakespeare. "They adopted them primarily to non-Indian families in order to reduce reservation populations and to reduce spending time at boarding schools."

Back then, almost a third of all Native children were removed from tribal communities through boarding schools and adoption.

"I think that is the very heart of the Indian Child Welfare Act is children losing their identity and then further, because they're our next generation, the tribe losing our identity through that process."

Shakespeare said almost 40 percent of his tribe lives somewhere other than the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and half of those members are children. He said if they came up for adoption, it's critical to the survival of the tribe they maintain their identity as Shoshones.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.