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Wyoming senator says it's time to improve ICWA on the state level after U.S. Supreme Court upholds law

The U.S. Supreme Court
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
The U.S. Supreme Court

On Thursday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act in a groundbreaking ruling for Native nations.

The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), with a 7-2 vote. The 1978 law aims to keep Native American adoptees with their tribes and traditions.

The Haaland v. Brackeen case involved five tribes, the Interior Department, and a white foster couple from Texas in conflict over the adoption of a Native American child.

Wyoming State Senator Affie Ellis, who is Diné/Navajo, sponsored a bill that passed this legislative session that would’ve kept protections in place for Native American children in the state if ICWA wasn’t upheld.

Ellis also helped pass a bill to create an ICWA task force. She said the task force is more important than ever.

“Certainly the Supreme Court’s decision will likely change the impact of the focus of our work, but I think it will be important for us to reach out to our tribes and discuss if and how we can do better to protect Native children under the provisions of ICWA,” said Ellis. “Because again, these are the most vulnerable children that are in need of either adoptive or foster homes, and we owe it to them to have those conversations.”

The state senator said that the Supreme Court’s decision recognizes the importance of protecting tribes and their cultural rights.

“Justice Gorsuch has some really powerful language about the foundations of this country, how tribal nations are supposed to still fit within the structure of our country, as set forth in the United States Constitution,” said the lawmaker.

Over the last four decades, the law has been central to halting previous state and federal governmental practices that separated Native families and undermined tribal sovereignty.

“Today is a great day for Indian Country,” said Ellis.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
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