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Potawatomi join amicus brief supporting ICWA

Citizen Potawatomi Nation joined a Native American Rights Fund amicus brief in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

In October 2018, a federal judge in Texas struck down the 40-year-old law after a non-Native couple, backed by the state’s attorney general, sued for the right to adopt a Native American foster child.

Along with Texas, Louisiana and Indiana argue the law unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of race and infringes on their right as states to oversee child welfare in their jurisdictions. Other opponents, like the right-wing Goldwater Institute, have long sought to overturn the law despite the fact late Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater signed ICWA in 1978.

ICWA provides an opportunity for the Nation to assist CPN children across the United States.

Prior to its passage, Native American children were taken from their families at higher rates than other groups. According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association, approximately 25 to 35 percent of all Native children were removed by state child welfare and private adoption agencies at the time ICWA became law. Of those removed, 85 percent received placement outside of their families and communities, despite the availability of fit and willing relatives.

A higher court will hear the case as over 325 tribes, 57 tribal organizations, 30 child welfare organizations and many legal scholars from across the U.S. join amicus briefs to protect the law, including the NARF brief that CPN signed.

Despite the three states working together, allies of Indian Country from across the political spectrum are voicing their support for the long-standing statute. Twenty-one state attorneys general and a bipartisan group of Congress members from around the country filed an amicus briefs in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in support of the law’s constitutionality. Signatures include U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) along with U.S. Representatives Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Don Young (R-Alaska).

“When the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed by Congress and enacted 40 years ago, it rightly affirmed tribal sovereignty and sought to preserve a unique and special heritage for Native children and keep families together,” Congressman Cole said. “It is very concerning that the constitutionality of this important law is being questioned in the courts. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, I am proud to be a part of this effort to protect the constitutional obligation our nation has to tribes. That trust must not be broken.”

At Citizen Potawatomi Nation ICW, Director Janet Draper has spent more than two decades ensuring the law’s provisions are enforced by state and local entities in the best interest of children with Tribal descendancy.

“ICWA is vital to our mission of protecting Citizen Potawatomi children across the country. Being able to keep Potawatomi children with members and family who understand their culture and background, it is important to their well-being,” said Draper. “We don’t want to return to the dark days of having state and local entities break up families and remove Native American children from their culture.”

The 5th Circuit Court issued a stay until it rules on the case.