Lakota Country Times: President Obama orders more compliance with ICWA

Larry Roberts, the acting leader of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, speaks at the National Indian Child Welfare Association's Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 4, 2016. Photo by NICWA / Twitter

President Obama Demands More ICWA Compliance
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

WASHINGTON-- With the Indian Child Welfare Act facing a barrage of criticism and multiple lawsuits intended to undermine the law, the White House is stepping g forward to make sure that federal entities comply with it.

"In keeping with President Obama’s commitment to supporting Indian families and fostering resilient, thriving tribal communities through his all-of-government approach, acting Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Lawrence S. Roberts today announced that the Departments of Interior (DOI), Justice (DOJ), and Health and Human Services (HHS) have entered into a collaborative agreement to ensure more robust compliance with and implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978," said the Department of Interior on April 4.

The announcement came at the National Indian Child Welfare Association's 34th annual Protecting the Children Conference.

"This MOU marshals the appropriate focus and resources of Interior, Justice and HHS to ensure that Congress’s intent in protecting Indian children and families is carried out,” said Roberts. “We want to assure Indian families and tribal leaders that the Obama Administration’s dedication to ICWA’s goals remains an enduring policy for Indian Country. Focused implementation and compliance of ICWA protects Indian children and families, strengthens the social fabric of tribal communities, and ensures that tribes are able to serve their citizens for generations to come," added Roberts.

The law that was originally designed to reduce the extremely high rate of Native Children being removed from their families and placed in to foster homes through adoption and legal proceedings has seen its ups and downs throughout the last decade.

"ICWA set forth a federal framework for maintaining American Indian and Alaska Native children with their families, including extended families, and deferring to tribal courts on matters concerning the custody of tribal children. Through ICWA, Congress also sought to carry out the United States’ trust responsibility for protecting Indian children and for the stability and security of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and families," said the DOI.

In South Dakota a federal court found that the state had institutionalized the illegal taking of Native America children by denying parents their right to due process under the constitution. The policies of Pennington County were found to be in direct violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Up until a federal court intervened, the parents of children taken by the state were not allowed to hear the evidence that warranted the seizure of their child or defend their family from the process. Currently litigants are awaiting direction from federal courts on how to move forward now that practice has been deemed illegal.

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Not everything has worked in ICWA's favor however as right-wing anti-Indian groups are now making a living cherry picks king cases where a state and federal courts may have grounds to undermine or weaken the law. One particular case in California involving a 5-year old Native American child has grabbed national headlines as poor reporting on the law has led to the publication of mass misinformation about the law.

The increased collaboration will be guided by a Memorandum of Understanding that includes the following:
• To memorialize the partners’ commitment to the continued importance of ICWA and its implementation for the health and well-being of Indian children, families, and communities;
• To formally establish the ICWA Interagency Workgroup to promote the purposes of ICWA and the partners’ mutual interests in ensuring ICWA implementation and compliance;
• To promote communication and collaborative efforts on federal activities that support ICWA implementation and compliance; and
• To establish structures and procedures to ensure that the Workgroup operates effectively and efficiently.

The MOU went in to effect on April 1.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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