Fighting to save the Indian Child Welfare Act

T Clearwater , Staff Writer

On Nov. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing a case challenging ICWA – the same court the overturned Roe V. Wade. For those who are unfamiliar with ICWA, it stands for Indian Child Welfare Act. 

This is the landmark law that prevents Indigenous children from being ripped away from their homes, families, communities and loved ones. The law actively acts to mandate that Indigenous children are to be placed with tribal members of the tribe they were born to.  

Sadly, this has not been the case. Many Indigenous children have still been systematically taken from their families claiming that the parents are unfit and being placed into custody of Child Protective Services. Indigenous children are still rampantly removed from their cultures and tribes, and ICWA has been one of our few protections. It is clear in my mind that if and when ICWA gets overturned, we will have our communities raided again. 

This act came as part of the policies that were designed to outlaw residential schools created for the purpose of assimilating Indigenous children under the mentality of “Kill the Indian, save the man.” It is my fear that the same practices will resume, as it is still actively spoken about by survivors of how the current foster care system runs. I hear about it often as my mother had been a victim of both, as was her mother. Abuses and exploitations such as sex trafficking, outrageous child labor and gross physical abuse runs rampant throughout the foster care system even today. Most notably it is the worst for girls, transgender, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary kids of color.  

The highest number of children in the foster care system this year is in the Black community with 92,237 children in the system, followed by the Hispanic community with 88,111 children in the system, according to a 2020 report in “Statista” by Erin Duffin. Currently 9,851 Indigenous children are in the system, according to that same report. Of those, 700 come from South Dakota annually as of 2011, according to NPR article by Laura Sullivan, “Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families.” At this time, 32 states fail to adhere to ICWA and the children ripped from their homes get placed in non-Indigenous homes. 

We have alarming statistics and stories of what happens to children in foster care today. Overall, there are over 420,000 children in the foster system according to “For Others,” a group that tracks these numbers and stories. On their website you will find the other information listed on the home page: 90% will experience severe trauma, only 50% will reunite with their families, 25% will attempt suicide, 81% of young men will become incarcerated, 71% of those able to become pregnant will do so before becoming 21 and half those children born to them typically go into the system themselves, 40% will become homeless within 18 months of being released (aged out) of the system and 97% will enter chronic poverty as soon as they age out. 

 This system does not provide those who age out any support after they turn 18 and does not help them go into transitional living before that age point. 

There has been a massive movement speaking out about this prior to SCOTUS overturning Roe V. Wade. The survivors had been becoming much more vocal about these realities and many sharing their stories for the first time as to enlighten U.S. citizens of the truth. Foster care is not a solution, and many of its victims will say it shouldn’t even be considered an option. 

To help aid in the dissent of SCOTUS hearing the challenge to ICWA you can follow #ICWA and #protectICWA on many platforms and the Indigenous activist, “Showme_yourmask,” can be found on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok. 

They are a two-spirit activist who is becoming well known for their work spreading truth about harmful groups, organizations and people who often trample Indigenous people for profit. In their link tree you can find many great resources to help resist many issues including updates on the ICWA hearing happening on Nov. 9.