Judge strikes down Native American adoption law; Tribes plan to fight back | KOB 4

Judge strikes down Native American adoption law; Tribes plan to fight back

Colton Shone
October 17, 2018 06:04 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- A landmark legislation involving Native American adoption illegal has been deemed illegal.


In the Oct. 4 ruling, a Texas federal judge said the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was unconstitutional. 

The 1978 law requires priority placement for Indian children who were up for adoption to stay with Native American families, preferably the same tribe. Nonnatives could adopt but only after showing why they're the best fit.

"It was really designed to protect our Native children," said Indian law attorney Cheryl Fairbanks.

At the center of the ICWA challenge is a white couple who wanted to adopt a half Navajo, half Cherokee baby. The family won their case even as tribal courts stepped in.

Fairbanks said the ruling could have disastrous effects for Native people.

"The data and research reflect that those kids, now often adults, don't belong in the Indian world or non-Indian world. They are in that gray area where they lost their self-identify and that puts them at high-risk," she said.

According to CYFD, there are currently 285 Native children in state custody. For the state's fiscal year 2018, 41 Native children were adopted. Currently, there are 153 foster families that identify as having Native heritage.

But many Tribal governments have their own social services departments with missions that align with their culture. 

According to Acoma Pueblo tribal officials, since 2015, 23 children across the state and country were brought back to the Pueblo to be placed with family members because of ICWA.

Pueblo of Acoma Social Services Director Donalyn Sarracino says Native families have higher rates of children removed from the homes, adding that tribes rely on ICWA, especially smaller tribes, to stay alive.

"If we don't have our children, at some point we will cease to exist. I think that's a very real threat to Native communities," Sarracino said. 

This ruling only applies to the North Texas federal district, but Indian leaders say if the ruling is upheld in a higher court, it could mean other federal Indian policies could be struck down. 

"ICWA is not a race-based law. It's based on our unique political status with the United States government," said Sarracino.

Fairbanks says tribes are willing to put up a fight.

"We've been subjected to failed federal policies failed state policies, now we're at that table where we can make a difference. Where we can demonstrate and exercise our sovereignty," she said.


Colton Shone

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