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Why the Indian child welfare act needs to be honored

Jude Cole

Imagine you are a young child. You have a loving family and despite your relative poverty, you lead a good life. Until one day a man comes and takes you from your home, off to a place that he calls a “school” but feels more like a prison. There you are given a new name and your hair is cut. You are stripped of your identity and assimilated into someone else’s culture.

This was the reality of hundreds of Native American children, who arrived at carlisle indian  industrial school in 1879, under the idea of “kill the indian, save the man.” Many children died at Carlisle and other schools like it. The theory was that if Native Americans were stripped of their cultural identity, then they could become “white,” effectively wiping out Native American culture.

It even somewhat worked. The loss of culture that the boarding schools caused was immense, affecting all native tribes. Even today, while the tribes have somewhat recovered, they will never really be the same.

Fast forward 99 years, and the government finally passes an act to prevent the effective genocide of Native American children: the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA. It prevents the forced abduction of Native children. It also sets in place strict guidelines for adopting Native kids. 

Unfortunately, ICWA has been challenged many times in court, by families hoping to adopt Native children. You see, the way ICWA works is that there is a strict order in which Native kids can be adopted. First, members of the child’s family are contacted. If there are no family members able to take care of them, then a member of the tribe is contacted. If no member of the tribe can take them, then a different tribe is contacted. Only if no other tribes can take care of the child, then a white family can adopt them. This means that white families are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to adoption.

While many people challenge ICWA simply on the grounds that they want to adopt the child, this law getting overturned would lead to a genocide of Native American culture as their children being absorbed into white families, who could then sap them of their culture.

The main case against ICWA is that it is unfair to Native children and therefore goes against the 14th amendment, and is unconstitutional. This lies on the basis that Native Americans are a race, instead of an ethnicity, a stereotype pushed by the old US government to make Native Americans seem less like independent nations, and more of just another race living in America.

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