Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Two Tales of the Indian Child Welfare ACt

Two Tales of the Indian Child Welfare Act

There are two stories in the media currently about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  One is about a case pending for a decision as to whether it will be heard by the United States Supreme Court. 

The other seems to see relatively less light of day—that of the on-going call to address the high rates of removal of Lakota children in South Dakota. The case pending in front of US Supreme Court  calls for the recognition of the pernicious Existing Indian Family Doctrine in relation to the adoption of a young Cherokee child. (link to brief filed in the US Supreme Court on behalf of the child, birth father and the Cherokee Nation)

 The Existing Indian Family Doctrine allows judges—in their discretion and applying their own standards- to avoid the application of ICWA with a finding that a child is not “Indian enough” to apply ICWA, even though the child meets the application threshold of being an “Indian child” as defined in the Act.   

ICWA is on the one hand  thus presented as the villain—coldheartedly stripping children from the arms of loving parents. The great irony in this presentation is that ICWA was created to prevent just that scenario (albeit with one difference—the parents ICWA is concerned about are those of the child and not of prospective adoptive parents)—the removal of children from their families and communities. The wholesale removal of indigenous children done in the interests of assimilation was to have stopped with the passage of ICWA in 1978. The testimony  in support of the Act makes for harrowing reading.

But even more harrowing is the reality that the removals of children has not stopped. NPR called attention to this with a series aired well over a year ago. There are calls for Congressional inquiry into the practices that result in the removal of so many indigenous children.
But instead of outcries against this there instead seems to be a  determined silence about those indigenous parents in anguish and  the injustice of those actions which remove children from their parents and community.

ICWA is an important and forward thinking act. It is as necessary today as it was in 1978. The problems with the Act arise not because of the Act itself, or from any need to abolish it or give any credence to the judicial embarrassment that parades as the Existing Indian Family Doctrine. The problems arise in each instance—that in the pending US Supreme Court case and in South Dakota—when the Act is not adhered to. The problem is not the Act, but in the failure to comply, and perhaps more importantly, with those attitudes that persist in a willful ignorance about the Act which try to legitimize efforts to evade it.

No comments :