Today, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the sovereignty of Alaska Native and American Indian tribes with its ruling in Haaland v. Brackeen.
In a 7-2 ruling, the court rejected challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act and upheld the law’s preferences for Alaska Native and American Indian children to be placed in Native foster and adoptive homes. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented in the case.
“We are so happy because the case had everything to do with our sovereignty. This will prevent mass removals of our children from their homes and their loved ones. This actually recognizes that tribes are sovereign entities, sovereign governments and political entities, not racial groups,” said Mary Ann Mills, Tribal Council Member.
Last year, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe joined with more than 500 other tribes and tribal organizations around the country in an amicus brief in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the law’s focus on the best interests of American Indian and Alaska Native children.
“It is imperative to keep tribal children in tribal court systems,” said Ronette Stanton, Tribal Council Chair. “At Kenaitze Indian Tribe, our Tribal Court makes decisions in the best interest of our children. Our Na’ini Family and Social Services employees work closely with children and families as they oversee our ICWA cases.”
The plaintiffs in the case challenged requirements in the Indian Child Welfare Act that in any custody proceeding involving an “Indian child,” preference be given to placing the child with a member of the child’s extended family, other members of the child’s tribe, or with other Indian families, rather than with non-Indian adoptive parents. They argued that the law violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating on the basis of race.
Defendants in the lawsuit were the Cherokee Nation and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. Defendants argued that Congress was well within its authority to enact the Indian Child Welfare Act, and that the law supports tribal sovereignty, self-government, and the best interests of Alaska Native and American Indian children.
In its ruling, the court cited more than a century of legal precedent that, under the Constitution, Alaska Native and American Indian tribes are recognized as sovereign nations, not racial groups.
Families needing help with an Indian child welfare case are encouraged to contact Na’ini Family and Social Services at 907-335-7600.