Every year, November is Native American Heritage Month. This month is to honor Native Americans’ accomplishments, their progenitors as well as those who are still fighting today. This article is an effort to honor the Indian Children Welfare Act also known as ICWA. This law is the only legislation that protects Native American children. Furthermore, it can allow Native people to heal after years of family separation. Mission boarding schools and the Indian Adoption Project caused Native people a lot of pain that still lives on today.
The Indian Adoption Project was a federal program that worked with churches and organizations to place Native children into non-Indian families. The program lasted from 1958-1967. Throughout this time, 35% of Native children were removed from their families and 90% were placed into non-Indian homes. They were placed with white families because white families were seen as fit to raise children. Usually, social workers presented no evidence to prove Native parents were unfit to care for their children.
ICWA needs to be updated
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a law that was passed in the U.S. in 1978. ICWA’s role includes placing Indian children with extended family, their tribe, or other Native families. ICWA has to be applied before placing Native children into foster care. Caseworkers are required to notify the child’s tribes, the child’s parents, and Native custodians about the child’s eligibility for adoption. The reason for this is to keep Native families together and Native children in their communities. Above all, the best interest of the child is what is most important.
After Adoptive Couple v Baby Girl, the Supreme Court ruled that ICWA did not apply to non-custodial parents. Clearly, the ruling was upsetting because the court set limitations on when ICWA could be applied. ICWA needs to be updated so that it is applied to non-custodial parents. Indeed, all children of federally and non-federally recognized tribes have to be taken care of through ICWA. No Native child should be excluded from ICWA.
Uphold the law
The Administration for Children and Families no longer have to collect data on foster youth and their families. The current administration eliminated requirements to report the number of foster children, Native children, and LGBTQ+ children in foster care. This is wrong because it is necessary to keep track of the challenges children face in foster care. Moreover, it will make it difficult to know if ICWA is being upheld if the number of Native children is not known. The data is necessary to show which group of children make up the majority in foster care.
Native people can heal as long as they can raise their children. The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) shares stories of Native communities who have benefited from ICWA. One of their participants shared how ICWA allowed them to become an important member of their community. In addition, ICWA allowed them to grow up within their culture and pass on their traditions to their children. When Native children know where they come from, they are most likely to succeed. Growing up with those who look like them gives them access to their culture. Equally important, it gives them a sense of identity which allows them to be proud of who they are.