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Indian Child Welfare Act case controversy

Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 5:56 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - In 1978, a federal law was passed called the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The law was created to establish standards for placing Native American children in foster and adoptive homes, trying to maintain their connection with their history.

Historically, after being taken, those children were often placed with white parents, rather than within their own culture.

The act places a priority for the child to be given to Native American relatives.

Now, a new federal appeals court ruling is challenging some of those standards.

In 2018, a two-year-old named Andy was being raised by white parents, Charles and Janet, due to his biological parents being unable to care for him.

After those two years, Charles and Janet went to sign official adoption paperwork. Tribal leaders objected and successfully blocked the adoption because of Andy’s Navajo and Cherokee background...

He would have been sent to New Mexico to live on a Reservation, but the couple appealed the ruling, and the tribes withdrew the case.

The case sparked interest from Attorneys General in Texas, Louisiana and Indiana. Who filed suit to modify the act so that Native American children can be equally placed with any family, regardless of racial background.

On April 6, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling in the case, with a split decision on most of the provisions.

Rapid City ICWA Trial Lawyer, Dana Hanna, says the act was ultimately deemed constitutional and will remain intact with only portions of the law struck down.

The court kind of broke down eight to eight on a lot of the big issues,” says Hanna. “Which means that the original decision stands. The decision of the Fifth Circuit that says it’s constitutional.”

Hanna says the slight changes to the act won’t impact Indian Child Welfare Act cases in South Dakota.

He says Native American children will continue to be placed with families prioritizing those of Native American descent.

The only states that will be impacted by the rulings are those within the Fifth Circuit, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Many suspect that the case will make its way to Supreme Court to be heard again.

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