By Eric Galatas | Public News Service (via AP Storyshare)
The ACLU of Nebraska filed a Short in a United States Supreme Court case challenging a 1978 law passed by Congress aimed at ending harmful assimilation practices separating Native American children from their families and tribes.
Misty Flowers, executive director of the Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition, said India’s child welfare law is still badly needed, in part to help children retain their cultural identity.
“We often see that those who don’t have a strong cultural identity have higher rates of substance abuse, mental health issues, suicide rates,” Flowers pointed out. “It’s kind of tied to those assimilation policies and those historical traumas.”
The ACLU is urging the High Court to uphold the constitutionality of the law, which requires state courts to help keep Indigenous families together. Prior to its adoption, some 35% of Indigenous children were removed from their homes, from intact families, with 85% placed in non-Indigenous homes.
A US appeals court struck down parts of the law in a Texas adoption case for imposing obligations on states.
The brief also asks the Supreme Court to uphold the centuries-old legal precedent of tribal sovereignty, including the right of tribes to preserve their unique cultural identities, raise their own children, and govern themselves. Flowers explained that when the US government consults or does business with tribes, it’s nation-to-nation.
“Because we are sovereign nations of this land. We were here first,” Flowers said. “And we had the ability, and we still retain the ability, to govern ourselves.”
The Indian Child Welfare Act also establishes preferences for the placement of adopted Native children in Native homes. Flowers, citing her social worker mother, said Indigenous children will always find their way home.
“It’s like an innate human need to have that connection to your family and your tribe,” Flowers noted. “Especially when you look different from other people around you.”