New Mexico tribal, state leaders react to ‘Indian Child Welfare Act’ decision

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tribal and state leaders in New Mexico weighed in Thursday on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to preserve the “Indian Child Welfare Act.”

The high court ruled, in a 7-2 decision, to uphold a law that keeps Native American children with tribal families.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the bill into law. It addressed concerns about the separation of Native children from their families and often, subsequent placement into non-Native homes.

Tribal leaders have backed the law as a means of preserving their families, traditions and cultures.

Leaders praised the Supreme Court’s decision, including Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren.

President Nygren issued this statement Thursday, calling for continued support for the ICWA:

“The Indian Child Welfare Act is a vital tool for protecting Navajo families and communities, and we are grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized its importance. Recently, I met a baby Navajo boy about the same age as my daughter. His smile lit up my office as I watched him play. He filled the office with the happiness children bring. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Brackeen v. Haaland case is a victory for the Navajo baby toddler and all Indigenous children and all Indigenous Nations in the United States. Thank you to the advocates, to our Navajo Nation Department of Justice, and the U.S. Supreme Court Justices.”

Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley also expressed appreciation for the decision in a statement:

“Our prayers have been answered with today’s ICWA ruling from the Supreme Court. It’s been a long hard-fought battle on the legal end and in the hearts and minds of Indigenous children and families across the country. Our families, leaders, and advocates remained united and persevered throughout this legal challenge. On behalf of the Navajo Nation Council, I thank the Supreme Court Justices who honored and respected the sovereignty of the first people of this country and ruled in support of our children.”

Last year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Indian Families Protection Act into law. That made New Mexico one of nine states with its own version of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

IFPA protects Native American families in New Mexico, regardless of any federal action. That includes an anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling like the one handed down Thursday.

Gov. Lujan Grisham responded to that ruling with the following statement:

“Throughout history, the child welfare system harmed Native children and their families by disregarding and disrespecting their culture. Today, the court recognized what we already know – the critical importance of sustaining a child’s connection to their cultural identity. That’s why in 2022 the Legislature passed, and I signed the Indian Family Protection Act, codifying the federal Act in our state. By upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act, we ensure this connection is protected today and for future generations. The Supreme Court made the right decision by acknowledging the importance of this Act and its positive impact on children, families, communities, and sovereign nations.”

Jonathan Nez served as Navajo Nation President from 2019-2023, during which IFPA passed in New Mexico.

Former President Nez released the following video statement on the ruling: