U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in Victory for Tribal Sovereignty

June 15, 2023 –

The United State Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Haaland v. Brackeen case today, June 15, 2023, which protects tribal sovereignty and the rights of Native American families in regards to the adoption and fostering of Native children.

The Supreme Court’s opinion on the case upholds the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a law enacted in 1978 to address generations of harm caused by the systemic removal of Native children from their families. The intergenerational trauma still felt today stems from many instances of removing Native children from their families, including the loss of language and culture, enforced assimilation, and physical harm inflicted through boarding schools, as well as aggressive foster care and adoption policies which placed Native children in non-Native households, often to the detriment of their cultural identity and overall wellbeing.

Introduced in 1978, ICWA is considered the “gold standard” of child welfare policy because it gives tribal governments exclusive jurisdiction over Native children who live on reservations. In effect, this allows tribal governments to place children in households where they are most likely to thrive, whether that is with immediate relatives or another family in their respective tribe.

The Supreme Court’s ruling that upholds and affirms ICWA has been met with joy from tribal governments and child welfare groups across the country. Many organizations and individuals who took part in the Protect ICWA Campaign leading up to the decision have issued celebratory statements online, but also note that there is still work to be done in addressing tribal sovereignty as well as the rights and needs of Native American individuals.

Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Chairman Joseph “Zeke” Rupnick made the following statement upon hearing of the ruling:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision upholds the sovereignty of Native Tribes and allows us to continue to give our children, no matter their family circumstances, the opportunity to embrace their Native culture and history – so much of which is learned in our family homes due to centuries worth of attempts to erase us. The Supreme Court preserved the integrity of federal law and by doing so preserved our culture for generations to come.”