Supreme Court Upholds Sinema & Colleagues’ Defense of Tribal Sovereignty & Child Custody Rights

Jun 21, 2023

Senator and bipartisan group of lawmakers filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to protect the Indian Child Welfare Act

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema and bipartisan colleagues’ defense of the Indian Child Welfare Act – a law passed in 1978 that ensures the placement of Native American children with Native families or tribes in child custody cases.
In 2022, Sinema and a group of bipartisan lawmakers from the House and Senate filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court underlining the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act and urging the Court to protect the law. This followed Sinema and a group of bipartisan lawmakers filing an amicus brief in federal court in 2020.  
“Native American children in Arizona and across the country deserve to grow up with their communities. Protecting the Indian Child Welfare Act ensures Native families stay together and respects tribal sovereignty,” said Sinema.
“The Court’s Brackeen decision was unambiguous: native children and cultures must be protected,” said Martin Harvier, President of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. “We still have a lot of work to do to address historical trauma and underinvestment in native communities, but this statement by the Supreme Court makes it clear that the United States must engage in that work on a government to government basis. I am grateful that Senator Sinema and 88 other Members of Congress joined almost 500 tribal nations in fighting to defend this law. This is an important win and I hope it ends the legal attacks on tribal sovereignty and families in future years.”
“The Community is gratified by the Supreme Court decision today in the Brackeen v. Haaland case, rejecting all challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act on various grounds. The 7-2 decision sends a strong signal to all those who have sought to undermine the Act, and tribal sovereignty, that we as tribes stand strong in defense of our children and our sovereign rights. The Gila River Indian Community is grateful for Senator Sinema’s unwavering defense of ICWA, tribal sovereignty, and most importantly our children,” said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act was meant to right a wrong that saw hundreds of thousands of Native American children taken from their homes and placed with families or institutions with no tribal connections. Upholding the ICWA prevents this tragic chapter in U.S. history from repeating itself.  I was grateful to see the US Supreme Court cite a case involving  children from CRIT as justification for the law to be upheld. It was even more reassurance that CRIT and the State of Arizona are on track when it comes to preserving tribal sovereignty and protecting tribal children,” said Amelia Flores, Chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.
Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 after receiving testimony that 25 to 35 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children were removed from their homes by state and private adoption agencies. The law sets best-practice standards for child welfare and adoption proceedings involving children who are members of a federally-recognized Tribe or are eligible for membership in a federally-recognized Tribe. Over four decades, the law has become the “gold standard” for child welfare policy and keeping Native children connected to their communities and cultures.