The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Indian Child Welfare Act is the gold standard


George F. Will’s Jan. 6 op-ed, “The racial politics of the Indian Child Welfare Act,”  ignored the benefits of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the basic facts of tribal citizenship. The ICWA is considered the gold standard of child welfare laws and establishes a process that promotes efforts to keep children connected to their families, communities and heritage. There’s a reason those who know the ICWA best — from child welfare experts to tribes — have filed briefs defending the law.

The op-ed also twisted logic to connect the ICWA to recent political divisions. The facts say otherwise: Republican and Democratic presidential administrations alike continually defend the ICWA in court. And as courts have repeatedly ruled, the ICWA is not a “race-based” law but rather one fully in line with congressional authority and the political status of tribal citizenship.

Before the ICWA passed, children were regularly removed from our communities, stripping them of identity and culture. As leader of the Cherokee Nation, I will not let us go back to that dark time.

Attacks on the ICWA prioritize politics over a process proven to work. Overturning this law would upend legal precedent and hurt those who matter most: our children.

Chuck Hoskin Jr., Tahlequah, Okla.

The writer is principal chief
of the Cherokee Nation.

George F. Will’s Jan. 6 op-ed on the Indian Child Welfare Act sidestepped important facts and used misleading storytelling to argue against this critical law.  

Mr. Will’s tragic stories falsely imply increased danger to children placed with their parents or tribal kin. Unfortunately, children of all backgrounds experience harm inside and outside foster care. He suggested Brackeen v. Haaland hinges on safety. This case is an appeal of adoption decisions, not safety determinations.

Mr. Will protested “identity politics” while omitting the crux of the legal debate: The ICWA is a political classification, not a racial one. Tribal sovereignty must be respected as a means of self-determination for Native people to have a say in what happens to their children and families.  

The question before the court is one of tribal sovereignty and cultural identity in healthy child development. The child welfare system disproportionately impacts Native American children, placing them in foster care at rates more than two times higher than their proportion of the population. As Canada recently recognized, many family separations are unnecessary. Cases from Pima County, Ariz., in which tribes are actively engaged have shown that children have better results under the ICWA. 

The ICWA is gold-standard practice because it guards against unnecessary government intrusion, protects family relationships, and emphasizes familial and cultural identity. The Supreme Court should recognize the ICWA as a vital tool to address ongoing injustices against Native and non-Native children alike.

Kim Dvorchak, Denver

The writer is the executive director
of the National Association
of Counsel for Children.