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In Support of the Indian Child Welfare Act

LaDonna Harris
5/1/13

I am outraged by Supreme Court case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. As a lifelong civil rights activist, I remember the struggle to pass the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978 and the reasons it is still so badly needed to protect our families and Native American cultures.

Congress passed ICWA in response to the alarmingly high number of children being removed from their homes. According to the First Nations Orphan Association, between 1941 and 1978, 68% of all Indian children were removed from their homes and placed in orphanages or white foster homes, or adopted into non-Indian families. Studies have shown that Native American children placed in non-­Native homes experience high rates of depression and suicide, as well as problems with development and identity formation. Removing Native children from their families and communities is severely traumatic and interrupts the transmission of culture from generation to generation.

The reasons ICWA was passed 35 years ago are just as strong and relevant today. Since its passage, ICWA has afforded protections for Indian children to stay in Indian families and tribal communities.

Unfortunately, current lack of compliance by state agencies is a concern to every Indian tribe and Native community in the country. We need to bolster support and resources for ICWA not dismantle the law. As National Public Radio recently reported, Indian children continue to be removed from their families and communities at a rate that outpaces other children of color.

Yet throughout the duration of the Baby Veronica case, media coverage has not included the original intent or purpose of the law, and has been largely inaccurate and negative.

My heart goes out to the families on both sides of this case. The Supreme Court's decision affects them directly. This decision could also affect every Native American by altering our very fragile right to be self-­‐ determining. Every tribal government and American Indian should take heed of this decision because it has the potential both to weaken our right to determine the fate of our own children and to erode the unique status tribes hold within the U.S. federal system of governments-—our inherent right to political and cultural autonomy.

I have dedicated my life's work to advance human rights, especially the rights of Indigenous peoples, due to a strong sense of my cultural identity imparted to me by my many Comanche relatives and the grandparents who raised me, Wakeah and Tabbytite. I have used the Comanche values they instilled in me to help create positive change. The United States needs diverse perspectives to ensure that cultural values are an integral part of the political and social fabric of our country. We all lose if we continue to allow Native American children to be separated from their culture and value systems.

I am as concerned about Baby Veronica as I am about the thousands of other Indian children in the system. The Supreme Court needs to consider the broader implications of ICWA and rule to protect our rightful place as autonomous and self-­determined peoples.

LaDonna Harris is an enrolled citizen of the Comanche Nation and president of Americans for Indian Opportunity (www.aio.org). As a national leader, Harris has influenced the agendas of the civil rights, feminist, environmental and world peace movements. She was a founding member of Common Cause and the National Urban Coalition and is an ardent spokesperson against poverty and social injustice. As Caucus. As the 1980 Vice Presidential nominee on the Citizens Party ticket with Barry Commoner, Harris firmly added environmental issues to that and future presidential campaigns. She has used her influence to promote world peace as former U.S. Representative to UNESCO and the Organization of American States Inter--American Indigenous Institute. Today, she heads an international Indigenous values—based leadership development initiative, the Ambassadors Program.

 

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Anonymous's picture
Well said, LaDonna.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
For what its worth, I think this case getting to the Supreme Court as quick as it did is amazing. The Justices(aayyee) did bring up some valid arguments. Which kind of means that there were some kinks that need to be ironed out in the ICWA, and custody. Almost 40 years ago my cousin was forced, by family members to give up her bi-racial baby. There was a non-native family who wanted the child and there was a tribal member family who were willing to adopt too. The tribal member family wound up with the baby. It broke my cousins heart to hear from the child, as an adult, years later, about how this child suffered physical abuse, substance abuse, that wages earned by the child were confiscated by the adoptive parents for their own use, just to name a few. On reservations we have high suicide rates, high teen pregnancy rates, high drop out rates. ICWA is good if a "healthy" NDN family is found. When I was in college off the reservation,I was introduced to a young man who was returning to the same tribe I belong to. He was adopted by a White Family. He was thrilled to meet a fellow tribal member. He was very well mannered, was not involved with any substance abuse. We were about, maybe 15 minutes into our conversation, when he reached out and attempted to touch my long hair, saying, "You have beautiful long hair." Without thinking I backed away from him, not wanting him to touch my hair. He took offense to my reaction. I had to explain to him that in our tribe you do not touch another person's hair like that. A couple of years later I ran into him again, this time on the reservation. He was full questions, fortunately I had some co-workers who could help give him answers.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
RE: "Indian children continue to be removed from their families and communities at a rate that outpaces other children of color". That's because Indians are the best people. I am white with only an Indian ancestor 5 generations back - before any enrollments. But I was privileged to work with for Indian people for 17 years. I have worked with other races, some indigenous, for another 15 years. Indians, even with all their troubles, are the most caring, generous, and accepting of all.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
This is article says it all and I hope all of Indian country is listening. I am from the ICWA era, so to speak. My brother, sister and me had a real rough go of it...the thing is our tribe did have the final say and let us go anyway for our sake (as we were half white).
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Alot of people need to be educated on issues, we, they, do not understand. Laws are made to protect children, but not always do they end up in good, healthy families. People need to educate themselves and others need education about the laws that are being made.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
My father was kidnapped from his birth family back in the 1920s by a white family who thought that his indian birth family was poor and "had too many children". They thought it would be a good christian thing to kidnap and raise an indian child, and the general consensus of society agreed with them as we see in this article where this topic is still being debated. The white family called this "adoption", though it didn't go through any court and was not with the consent or even advance knowledge of the birth family. Now if a white child was kidnapped under such circumstances, there would be a nationwide manhunt. As it is there was not a single thing done about it. His mother's complaints and attempts to find him resulted in absolutely nothing being done. The white family was responsible and well off and took good care of him. His indian siblings whom he never met throughout his life had a difficult time growing up. There is probably not a single white do-gooder or judge in the US who would not look at the financial situation and claim that he was "better off" with the white family since they had more money and fewer problems. He got more attention as an only child and attended better schools in a nicer neighborhood. My father found out he had been kidnapped when he went to join the Navy in WWII and found there was no birth record for him with the name he was told was his. His white mother broke down and told him the truth. Finally he understood why he never understood the perspectives and points of views and ways of being and getting along of his upper middle class friends and neighbors. He never spoke to the woman who kidnapped him again, and despised her for the rest of his life, throughout which he suffered severe distress and problems as a result of the trauma of what happened. His siblings who were raised in poverty grew up fine and did not suffer this distress at all. The arguments about finances and taking someone away because they are poor, or their parents don't have as many things, or are a hated minority are wrong. Kidnapping of indian children by whites (let's call this what it really is), whether done with the sanctions and approval of a racist judiciary system, or simply by grabbing children from their homes, is an act of violence. It is a hate crime. It is an act of genocide against our cultures and it has always caused great harm.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Always knew my Mom named for correctly after you, LaDonna Harris...I am also an advocate for people with disabilities in Indian Country but before I was born, my Mom heard and saw what you were doing then and so I was named after you. A good strong name and I am proud to carry this name and to be named after you. I met you once at National Congress of American Indians and introduced myself. I was then the Chairperson for the Sub-Committee on Disability for NCAI. I have always partnered with ICWA advocates as NCAI as well as while working in the arena of disability for our people. I am glad that you continue to speak out and will always join you in the fight for what is right for our children and our people.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Children are taken by people who find loop-holes in the system to make money off of them. Many times the Juvenile Judges are paid thousands of dollars for the sale of the children to couples who will pay anything just to have a child. I was told this by a lawyer who tried to help me with custody of my grandchild in Oklahoma Juvenile Court. My daughter died and they had a hearing without my knowledge or notice and my granddaughter was given to a non-native couple. Then, when I tried to get Karlee they said they make lots of money from people wanting our children. The Judge would not even hear our case. AS a member of the Cheyenne/Arapaho tribe, not to be able to see your own Granddaughter is like losing an arm or a leg. There are only, 16,000 of my tribe and to take away one child from their culture is abominiable... The ICWA did not help, the attorney for the people taking her was running for Attorney General of Ok his name was Dunn. They ignored ICWA because she would be at least, a quarter Cheyenne/Arapaho and would be able to enroll in my tribe. I have not been able to talk to or see my own granddaughter since 2004. The Tribe did not help me, I went to a Judge at the complex in Concho, Ok and a Judge Charles Tripp was there, he said he did not have jurisdiction. If I was a member, and my daughter was a member of the Cheyenne/Arapaho then, who had jurisdiction?
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Oh Ladonna,we have a common friend, who you will hear from. My concern about this case is Dustin. He's not an honest person, and he does not have honest respectful relationships with women, and that is not based just on his actions with Veronica's mother. It is based on a string of facebook messages he left on a computer between him and another baby mother, who's child he doesn't pay enough attention too. He abandoned Veronica's mother and this bio daughter during the pregnancy.Where was the tribe then? What he did to his bio daughter by ripping her from the family she knew at that age is in itself selfish and abusive. I truly loving father would have taken a differentmuch better approach. She will suffer already for the rest of her life now, to some degree to be determined. If Native Americans love their kids so much, what happened to Dustin that he ended up in this predicament? Why does he live dishonestly at the expense of women in his life? I would dig a little deeper if I was you to find the truth behind this particular case.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
i understand the cause, but i do not know exactly where to stand on the issue. My mother is Lakota Sioux, adopted out among 8 other brothers & sisters (but she was the firstborn) from her 16 year old mother in SD. Her adoptive parents were middle-class americans with Irish and German blood, but anyway, they admired Native Americans i suppose so they adopted my mom, having already had two children of their own. Well, my mother, growing up in the late 70s, had a mainly materialistic household and trouble finding her own identity, and was raised to be more white, never knowing anything about native culture besides getting enrolled in the Standing Rock tribe while in high school. So when she was 18 she left to go to Haskell in KS, and hung out everyday with people of her own blood, and she liked it. She found out that her birth family was very unstable and that her mother was crazy, her siblings suicidal and a few of them in prison, with kids, younger than her at 22. But she wanted Indian kids so she hooked up with my dad, half Muskogee Creek and half Sac and Fox, and they moved back here, central IL, to be among her parents and settle down. Afterward she's had a very hard life, given that my father was an alcoholic and abusive, had childhood neglect was poor being raised in rural OK and everything, and they've been divorced, but the 3 of us siblings know his family and have more knowledge than she did. Despite being raised in a lower middle class setting where you're normally either black or white. But i don't know if wanting to adopt a Native American child when i grow up is wrong, since i've wanted to in honor of my mother, someday. Would it be right because i am Native, or would it not make a difference? A child is still a child, but... I have no clue.
Anonymous

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