SALT LAKE CITY — Utah joined 21 other states last week in filing a legal brief in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act, a 40-year-old law that furthers the best interests of Native American children and protects the sovereignty of Indian tribes by preserving children’s connections to their tribal heritage.
“The future of our Native American nations relies upon their youth learning and integrating the proud history, traditions and culture of their people within our broader society,” Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes said in a press release. “ICWA accomplishes this while still providing needed protections to indigenous children.”
Reyes continued to say that he is pleased to work on the bipartisan effort to defend the law.
“ICWA works in Utah. The State supports it and our First Nation friends support it. ICWA properly balances the safety and needs of children along with tribal and societal interests.”
First enacted in 1978, the ICWA was a response to a history of culturally insensitive removal of Indian children from their birth families, according to the press release. The result was the separation of Indian children from not only their families but their tribes and heritage as well.
The ICWA’s purpose is to “protect the best interests of Indian children and promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards” to be used in child welfare proceedings involving Native American children.
“It’s imperative Native American youth stay with their families and tribes whenever possible. There is tremendous cultural importance in this for the children and the nations,” Reyes said. “As one with heritage from a Native people, I am sensitive to this issue. The Native Hawaiian language was almost lost forever, until it was once again taught to our children in schools and at home.”
In October 2018, a federal district court in Texas struck down much of the ICWA on constitutional grounds.
The appeal in Brakeen v. Zinke is being heard in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The amicus brief filed Monday argues that the ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s broad authority to legislate in the field of Indian affairs and does not violate the Tenth Amendment or equal protection principles.
The brief also highlights the ICWA’s role in reducing disparities in child removal rates and improving the collaboration between states and tribes relating to their shared interest in improving the health and welfare of Native American children.
In addition to Utah, the other states that filed the brief are California, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.