Overturning ICWA Violates Human Rights

Luís Escobar, staff writer

During this Indigenous Peoples Month, white savior complex seems to have found its way into the judicial system and is now threatening the future of generations of Indigenous children. Protecting the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) shouldn’t even be a question that is brought to the U.S. Supreme Court. The potential overturning of ICWA is not only a political issue but a mental health issue, a social issue and most importantly a human rights issue. Indigenous people have been devastated enough.

ICWA is a federal law that was created to prevent the separation of Indigenous children from their communities and keep them safe from systemic racism and abuse in the foster care and adoption systems. Before it was enacted, the removal of Indigenous children was another way for colonizers to commit genocide on Indigenous people alongside throwing them in boarding schools and forcing assimilation. Now, because of two white foster parents that wanted a daughter, it could be taken off the law books.

Enter “Baby O” (the court’s anonymized identity for the child) and the parents that caused this whole mess. Heather and Nick Libretti tried to adopt a child they were fostering who had roots in an Indigenous tribe from El Paso, Texas, called Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. This child had every right to be placed in the custody of extended family or community members that were a part of their tribe. A long, exhausting legal battle started regarding who could take custody of the child. The point of fostering a child is to provide care for them until they can be permanently housed. Adoption has never been the end goal of foster care. 

Eventually, the Librettis were able to adopt the child, but decided to keep fighting, claiming that ICWA was discriminatory against non-Indigenous peoples. Under ICWA they were able to foster but not adopt, and they argue it was unconstitutional. I’m sorry, but you don’t get to complain about racial discrimination as a white person. You don’t get to overlook the generations of history and trauma that Indigenous peoples have faced on this continent — seeing their families and culture torn apart by colonizers. It is crystal clear to see that their intentions are not to provide a safe home for this child, something the child would already have if they simply fostered. They had claimed that they only wanted to provide a home for Baby O. If that was really their purpose, why go after ICWA?

The protection of Indigenous people and Indigenous rights shouldn’t stop at just ICWA. For years, the U.S. government has been turning its back on Indigenous communities. May I remind you all of the Line 3 pipeline that was built last year, threatening tribal sovereignty and water rights. Tribal reservations are extremely underfunded, and sacred land has been destroyed in the interest of money at the cost of humans. Overturning ICWA would be a violation of Indigenous sovereignty and fundamental human rights at a time when reparations are in order on so many levels for Indigenous people within this country.

Listen to Indigenous communities and organizers. If you care about Indigenous people and families, educate yourself and protest to protect them. The Supreme Court should not have the authority to remove the autonomy of thousands of children and tribes around the country. It is up to us, the people, to support them and help them protect themselves.