Dear USET/USET SPF Family,
This morning, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of Brackeen v. Haaland, concerning the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In a 7-2 decision authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Court rejected all challenges to ICWA, "some on the merits and others for lack of standing." USET SPF is elated and relieved that the Court upheld a law so critical to the survival of Tribal Nations and our political relationship with the United States.
"The continuity of our Tribal Nations rests upon the strength of our sacred family and cultural connections, our ability to nurture, teach, and hold close future generations," said USET SPF President, Kirk Francis. "It is with great joy and relief, then, that we celebrate the Supreme Court's recognition of the vital role that ICWA plays in the preservation of our inherent sovereignty, governance, and cultures. While we know that the fight to exercise and maintain our sovereign rights and authorities continues, today is an historic and righteous acknowledgement of the United States' obligation to honor, respect, protect, and uphold the core foundations of our continued diplomatic, Nation-to-Nation relationship."
Brackeen v. Haaland challenged the constitutionality of ICWA, which was enacted in 1974 in response to the disgraceful history and practice of separating Native American children from their families during adoption proceedings. The case was filed in federal court in Texas by the state and seven individuals. These individuals included three couples who are not Native American and had tried to foster or adopt children with Native American ancestry, as well as the biological mother of a Native American child whom one of the couples eventually adopted.
While ICWA is specific to child welfare cases, the grounds on which law was challenged go far beyond these issues. As you are aware, the nation-to-nation relationship between the United States and Tribal Nations is political in nature. As such, laws and policy directed specifically at Tribal Nations and Native American people do not implicate the constitution’s equal protection clause. Opponents of ICWA (and Tribal sovereignty) called into question Congress' ability to make laws specific to Tribal Nations and Native people, arguing that this practice is based on race, as opposed to our political, diplomatic relationship with the United States. Although today's decision upholds this practice, because the Supreme Court did not rule on questions related to Equal Protection, we must be vigilant and continue to defend against threats to our sacred Nation-to-Nation relationship and sovereign political status.
USET SPF joined 497 Tribal Nations and 62 Tribal organizations in signing onto an amicus brief arguing that ICWA is an appropriate exercise of the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations and that ICWA’s political classifications are an appropriate exercise of Congressional authority that directly support Tribal sovereignty and further the best interests of Native American children.
USET SPF remains committed to defending ICWA, Tribal sovereignty, and our unique relationship with the federal government. While today's decision is a welcome relief, we will continue to fight for the preservation and more comprehensive recognition of our sovereignty and our political, diplomatic relationship with the United States.
For more information, please contact Liz Malerba, USET SPF Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, at email@example.com.