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No American Indian family remains untouched by government policies of forced family separation.
Prior to the Adoption Era (1940-1978) the progressive approach to America’s “Indian problem” was to “Kill the Indian and save the man” by shipping Native youth and toddlers to an estimated 500 federally-funded conversion schools and religious institutions (Boarding School Era: 1879-1978).
Ratified by Congress in 1978, ICWA intended to “prevent the unwarranted removal of Indian children from their homes and to ensure that when Indian children are removed from their families, they are placed in culturally appropriate homes whenever possible.”
Forty years later, Native families continue to be torn apart through biased, often controversial, removal practices. Nationwide, American Indian/Alaskan Native children remain 3 times more likely than white children to be placed in foster care. In South Dakota, Native children are 10 times more likely than white children to be placed in foster care, and in Minnesota they are nearly 22 times more likely.
With Tribal Nations continuing the fight to keep Native children in Native homes, legal attacks on ICWA continue to intensify. As recent as October 2018, a Texas Federal court deemed ICWA “unconstitutional” and, as with another controversial ICWA case in 2013 (Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl), it is highly anticipated that this issue will work its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming years. Increased political scrutiny makes it even more important for the voices of lived experience to be elevated in the public discourse, before future generations are born into further loss.
An Era of Removal
This collective era of removal effectively displaced 25-35% of Native American youth from tribal communities nationwide by the late 1960s. In response to the disturbing number of children disappearing from their communities, Native women, parents, and advocates banded together to collect testimony and draft the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
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