Lakota Country Times: Indian Child Welfare Act is under attack

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Lakota Country Times Editor. For more news, subscribe to the Lakota Country Times today. All content © Lakota Country Times.

Indian children in South Dakota. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project

Keep Native children with Native families
By Brandon Ecoffey
LCT Editor

RAPID CITY— For most it would seem that keeping Native children with Native families is smart policy, for some however, this is not the case. The non-profit Lakota People’s Law Project highlighted three separate challenges to the legality of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Originally enacted in 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act was drafted in response to the extremely high rate of Native children being taken from the custody of their birth parents and placed in to foster care. It is estimated that as high as 35% of Native children were being removed from their communities and placed in non-Native homes.

The law recognizes the sovereignty of tribal nations in the U.S. and gives extra weight to tribes in cases involving child custody proceedings dealing with tribal citizens. The law grants tribes exclusive jurisdiction over cases originating on reservations and was intended to give the tribes jurisdiction over over non-reservation Native Americans’ foster care placement proceedings.

This law has been attacked frequently by both the Christian right and adoption agencies across the country who have felt that tribes have been granted too much authority over their children and citizens. The stance taken by those opposed to ICWA has consistently failed to recognize the inherent sovereign rights of tribes and has resulted in the federal courts having to answer challenges to the law.

“These lawsuits demonstrate nothing less than how far the American Association of Adoption Attorneys is willing to stoop to clear the way for them to pray on unwed Indian mothers so the adoption agencies can procure their babies and sell them to wealthy families,” said LPLP Chief Counsel Daniel Sheehan.

According to Lakota People’s Law Project the lawsuits are being backed by representatives of the adoption industry who have financial incentive to break down ICWA and subsequently tribal sovereignty.

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker, left, discusses an Indian Child Welfare Act case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. Tribal citizen Dusten Brown, in sunglasses, was forced to give up his biological daughter after the justices ruled against him. Photo from National Congress of American Indians / Flickr

“The lawsuits, filed under the guise of civil rights claims on behalf of Native people, actually seek to dismantle the most important federal law that continues to safeguard the sovereignty of Indigenous tribes throughout the United States. The suits not only attack ICWA and a strengthened state law in Minnesota, but they seek to undermine guidelines recently released by the federal government as a result of an epidemic of state governments’ wholesale failures to abide by the provisions of the federal law,” said LPLP in the release.

Last March the Bureau of Indian Affairs released new guidelines that strengthened the position of tribes when dealing with child custody cases but those same guidelines are the very ones being targeted by the lawsuit according to LPLP.

“The entire reason the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Indian Affairs released enhanced protections for tribes is because there is a full-blown crisis of Indian child seizures,” said Chase Iron Eyes, Chief Attorney of the Lakota People’s Law Office in South Dakota.

In the release LPLP is essentially ringing the warning bell for those across Indian Country to prepare to defend the law against the attacks and has begun compiling amicus briefs that they plan to submit to the DOJ. They are also calling upon the ACLU to step in on the behalf of tribes.

“It is imperative that Indian Country take note and unify, as once again there are people looking to exploit our tribes and our people for financial gain,” said Bryan Brewer, the former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “Only in this case, these people are after our most sacred resource — our children. We as a people were not prepared for Baby Veronica, and it hurt us in the press and in the courtroom. This time we will be ready.”

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

Join the Conversation