Advance Notice: Briefs

Nessel, 25 AGs advocate for Native children in Supreme Court case

By: - October 19, 2021 2:19 pm

U.S. Supreme Court | Robin Bravender

Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined a bipartisan coalition of 26 attorneys general in an effort to uphold protections guaranteed under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), Nessel’s office announced Tuesday.

The amicus brief, filed on Oct. 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court, concerns the cases of Haaland v. Brackeen and Cherokee Nation v. Brackeen which seek to uphold the ICWA’s constitutionality.

Attorney General Dana Nessel at the Michigan Elder Abuse Task Force meeting in Flint, July 26, 2019 | Andrew Roth

“The Indian Child Welfare Act is a landmark protection for Native American children, families and tribes,” Nessel said Tuesday. “I join my colleagues in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold this critical tool.”

Chad and Jennifer Brackeen had originally filed suit in federal court to overturn the ICWA on the grounds of racial discrimination after attempting to adopt a Navajo boy. The Navajo Nation had stepped in and tried to place the boy with a family within the tribe.

That lawsuit, Brackeen v. Haaland, culminated in an April ruling from a Texas appeals court that parts of the law were constitutional and other parts were unconstitutional.

Now, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the country’s first Indigenous cabinet secretary — and four tribes (the Cherokee Nation, Oneida Nation, Quinault Indian Nation and Morongo Band of Mission Indians) are filing suit to uphold the ICWA’s constitutionality and protections for Native children.

The ICWA was first enacted in 1978 to promote the placement of Indigenous children into homes with their extended families or with other tribal homes. It addressed the pervasive issue of Native children being removed from their homes, often without cause, and placed into non-Native foster homes.

This practice, along with the institution of so-called Indian boarding schools that sought to assimilate Indigenous children into white society in the United States and Canada, have had rippling generational effects on tribal communities through loss of cultural traditions, language and more.

The coalition is made up of Nessel and the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

Collectively, those states are home to approximately 86% of federally recognized tribes in the country.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).