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ICWA supporters asked to mobilize ahead of hearing

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Nov. 9 in a case that could decide the future of the Indian Child Welfare Act. (File photo)

It’s crunch time for supporters of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). After years of legal wrangling in lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Nov. 9 in Haaland v. Brackeen – a case that challenges the constitutionality of the 1978 law.

Each side will have 50 minutes to present its case, with a decision expected to be handed down by June 2023. This past summer, 21 amicus briefs were sent to the court in favor of upholding the law. About 500 tribes, (including the Seminole Tribe and the Miccosukee Tribe), 62 Native organizations, 23 states and the District of Columbia, 87 members of the U.S. Congress and 27 child welfare and adoption organizations signed on to the briefs.

Amicus briefs allow entities that have a stake in litigation to provide information to the court on issues they believe are important to the case.

ICWA was enacted to protect Native children from being separated from their extended families and taken away from their communities and culture when possible. Proponents point to research that shows the law has led to more positive outcomes for Native children, such as higher self-esteem and academic success. Opponents say the law is race based and claim the child “placement preferences,” and other provisions in the law, put an excessive burden on states to involve and defer to tribes in foster-care decisions.

Staff at the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) has been monitoring the recent legal challenges to ICWA and educating tribes and the public at large about its importance. In the lead up to the Nov. 9 hearing, NICWA said there are three things supporters can do.

First, NICWA has launched an online petition for supporters to sign and share. The petition can be accessed here. Secondly, NICWA is asking supporters to share a message from its “Protect ICWA Campaign” on social media, which can be found on Twitter and Instagram using the handle “@ProtectICWA.” NICWA has also organized a gathering to take place outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 9.

“Our gathering will be a family-friendly, prayerful gathering,” Sarah Kastelic (Alutiiq), NICWA executive director, said. “We’ll have prayers, NICWA’s pipe [and] a drum group. It’s a respectful show of support for ICWA.”

Kastelic said she hopes families, leaders, singers, dancers, traditional practitioners, elders, knowledge keepers, youth and allies will attend.

The gathering comes two days before the procession and formal dedication of the nearby National Native American Veterans Memorial on Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Kastelic hopes that event will help to bring more people to the gathering. NICWA is encouraging people to register for the gathering in advance on Eventbrite, which can be accessed here.

While she doesn’t have any predictions of what the court might decide, Kastelic said it has implications for upholding tribal sovereignty, which already took a hit this year. The court’s Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta decision in late June caused unease across Indian Country due to its expansion of the states’ authority over Native lands. At the same time, she said the court has also handed down decisions that upheld tribal sovereignty.

“We’re already strategizing about different possible rulings and how to address them,” Kastelic said. “No matter what happens in this case, Indian Country will continue to fight to protect our children and keep families together.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is located at 1 First Street NE in Washington, D.C. More information is at

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at