States look to codify ICWA protections as the Supreme Court considers the law's legality
As the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act, several states in the Mountain West are preparing their own laws to protect tribal rights should the court deem ICWA unconstitutional.
ICWA requires state courts to prioritize placing Native American children in foster or adoption care within their own tribal communities. It was passed in 1978 in response to the large number of Indigenous children who were being separated from their familes, tribes and cultures.
The plaintiffs in the case, Brackeen v. Haaland, argue the law discriminates against non-Indigenous people. Wyoming State Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, is among those who disagree.
“I want to make sure that we step back just for a half a second and realize that these are sovereign tribes,” he said in recent testimony. “This isn't necessarily about the race issue. This is about granting those rights to the sovereign tribes.”
The Wyoming Legislature recently voted to codify ICWA protections for Indigenous nations. Utah and Montana lawmakers are considering similar laws, and New Mexico passed one last year. Several tribal and child welfare advocates have said overturning ICWA would lead to too many children being separated from their cultures and communities – and undermine Indigenous sovereignty.
The Supreme Court began considering the case in November and is expected to make a ruling in the spring.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.