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Supreme Court Upholds Law on Native Adoptions

Native American Christians, involved in both their tribes and in child placement situations, know the complexity of these cases better than most.

Native American tribes will retain priority for placement in the adoption of Native American children after a US Supreme Court ruling on Thursday.

The high court rejected all challenges to the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in a 7–2 ruling by Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

An evangelical couple, along with two other adoptive couples, had challenged the law on multiple grounds, one being that it hinders non-Native families from fostering and adopting Native American children.

The court rejected every argument and defended the fundamental constitutional principles behind ICWA.

“This case is about children who are among the most vulnerable: those in the child welfare system,” wrote Barrett in the decision. She shared a comment from a Choctaw chief who testified in Congress in 1978, when ICWA became a federal law: “Culturally, the chances of Indian survival are significantly reduced if our children, the only real means for the transmission of the tribal heritage, are to be raised in non-Indian homes and denied exposure to the ways of their people.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who handled many cases involving Native American affairs out West before coming to the high court, wrote a concurring opinion that detailed the history of the federal government forcing child removal from Native American families through boarding school initiatives, including through some missionary-run schools. He noted that surveys showed “approximately 25–35 percent of all Indian children [were] separated from their families” by 1974.

The court avoided the thorniest issue in its ruling: whether ICWA’s rules for child placement were unconstitutionally race-based. …

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