Associate Attorney General Tony West

Tony West on ICWA: ‘We Will Continue to Stand Up for ICWA’


The following are the remarks of Associate Attorney General Tony West as delivered at the National Indian Child Welfare Association’s 32nd annual Protecting Our Children Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Thank you, Theodore and Alex, for that kind introduction and for inviting me to join you today at this conference. It is wonderful to be here with so many friends, colleagues, and supporters. And it is an honor to share the stage this morning with two great partners, Assistant Secretary [Kevin] Washburn and Associate Commissioner [JooYeun] Chang.

I would especially like to thank NICWA and its members for the work that you do – day in and day out – to strengthen Indian tribes, to support Indian families, and to protect Indian children in both state child-welfare and private-adoption systems throughout our nation.

And I think it's fitting that what brings us together this morning, this week – from communities across this country – is our commitment to children, particularly Native children. I think it was the French philosopher Camus who wrote about this being a world in which children suffer, but maybe, through our actions, we can lessen the number of suffering children.

Indeed, what brings us to Ft. Lauderdale is that promise we make to all of our children: that their safety and well-being is our highest priority; that they are sacred beings, gifts from the Creator to be cherished, cared for, and protected.

It was that promise that, nearly 40 years ago, led Congress to hold a series of hearings that lifted the curtain and shed light on abusive child-welfare practices that were separating Native children from their families at staggering rates; uprooting them from their tribes and their culture. Roughly one of every three or four Indian children, according to data presented at those hearings, had been taken from their birth families and placed with adoptive families, in foster care, or in institutions that had little or no connection to the child's tribe.

And in the face of that overwhelming evidence, a bipartisan Congress acted and passed the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.

And in the four decades since, as everyone here knows, ICWA has had a dramatic impact. Families, tribes, social workers, and Indian foster and adoptive parents have invoked ICWA’s core protections to stem the most flagrant abuses.

Tribes no longer face the prospect that a quarter to a third of their children will simply disappear, shipped off to homes halfway across the country. Today, in many places, tribes and states have developed productive working partnerships to implement ICWA – partnerships that ensure that Indian families and cultures are treated with the respect they deserve.


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