Kimberly Jump-CrazyBear held up a homemade “Uphold ICWA” sign across the street from the US Supreme Courthouse in Washington, DC on the morning of November 9th.
“I’m only here on behalf of everyone who can’t be here today. To help me lend my vote,” she said before hearings began for Haaland vs. Brackeen. “Without our children, we don’t have a people anymore.” Jump-CrazyBear are Osage and Oglala Lakota who grew up in Virginia.
While holding up Jump-CrazyBear and changing her sign, a woman across the street at the rally said over the speakers, “If you take our children, you take our identities.”
Jump-CrazyBear was one of hundreds of Indigenous peoples and allies who appeared before the country’s highest court to show their support for the Indian Child Welfare Act.
About 60 people lined up waiting to be seated in court to witness the hearing. Many sat between the Capitol and the court listening to hearings through their headphones for three hours, and others listened to the series of speakers and songs throughout the morning and into noon.
Haaland v. Brackeen challenges the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law that many child protection organizations have described as the “gold standard” for child welfare. It was enacted in 1978 to “stop the needless forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families,” said Sarah Kastelic, a registered citizen of the Aboriginal village of Ouzinkie and executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.
“So one of the things we talk about in our organization is the recipe for colonization,” Kastelic said. This recipe is “consistently followed by colonizers to colonize indigenous peoples.”
She said there are five ingredients:
“take the land”
“Control natural resources, especially water;”
“Usurper, replace indigenous governance to delegitimize indigenous thought;”
“Undermine the worldview, values, traditions and beliefs of the indigenous people” and
And number five, “the most important ingredient,” she says, “is to separate native children from their sense of identity, from their culture, from their sense of belonging, from this sense of connectedness.”
This would fit the United Nations definition of genocide.
“So if we look at what the child welfare system did, it followed right on from boarding school policy, as federal boarding schools waned in popularity, the child welfare system picked up right where the education system left off,” Kastelic said. “It’s not a coincidence, it’s intentional.”
Among the dozens with ICWA tags was Bobbie Hamilton. She traveled 1,300 miles from El Reno, Oklahoma, with 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho citizens to show their support.
Hamilton is at the forefront of Indian child protection. She is an Indian social worker in the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and a nursing worker. She retired from the US Government as a Registered Nurse with Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service.
When she heard the hearings, she met them, she said.
“So every day we face the trials and tribulations that they (the children) face. There is trauma. There are many feelings that children have that they try to deal with on a daily basis and I am with them. i feel these feelings I feel their frustration and even their happiness when their happiness comes through. I’m with them,” Hamilton said as he stood before the Supreme Court. “That’s why our children are very important to us and we want the best for our children. It’s hard to see them in situations they sometimes find themselves in. Hard decisions have to be made. And I’m right there where they feel the same.”
Chief Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation was one of several leaders who attended the three-hour hearing. The Cherokee Nation is the country’s largest indigenous nation with a population of over 430,000.
“The dispossession of Aboriginal children from their families in tribal areas has inflicted measurable harm on Indigenous people in this country over the centuries,” Hoskin said during a press conference after the hearing. “We were here today together as Aboriginal people to argue in court that India’s Child Welfare Act is constitutional and to send a message to this country that we will not accept the dispossession of our children and the further erosion of our Aboriginal people.”
Prior to ICWA’s death, up to 35 percent of Native American and Alaskan children were removed from their homes and placed in non-Native homes. Generations of Indigenous families have been disrupted, causing irreparable damage to Indigenous communities at large.
“Keeping our children at home is where they need to be,” Charles Martin, chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. “We will do what we have always done, as our ancestors did, we will move forward to protect future generations.”
Fawn Sharp, vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation, described the judges’ questioning as “excruciating.”
“In every single generation we’ve had to fight this battle and I’m telling you, you spend three hours in this courtroom with this country’s highest court, the Supreme Court, and you sit here and you still feel like they don’t get us . three hours of nagging discussions, nagging questions where they don’t understand the basic concept that we have an innate sovereignty and we have innate rights to the future of every indigenous child born in this generation,” Sharp said.
As with many issues in Indian country, ICWA has bipartisan support. The leaders noted that it would be shocking if the Supreme Court did not confirm the crime. During her speech, Sharp added that dark money and special interest groups are trying to attack tribal sovereignty and that this case is not a normal Indian child welfare case.
“There is dark money out there that is strategically targeting our children, our natural resources and our sacred sites. They want to further enrich the profits at our expense,” Sharp said. “We know that no matter what they do, as indigenous people we have a specific place in this life. We take the position of inheriting all that our Creator bestowed on us. There is nothing any of them can do to take that away from us, no legislation, no court decision. They can’t buy it and they can’t regulate us. We are sovereign tribal nations from the beginning of time to the end of time.”
The decision of the Supreme Court in this case will come in the spring of 2023.
This story originally appeared in Indian Country Today and is republished here with permission.