West indian people

Indigenous peoples flocked to DC for ICWA hearing

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The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 in Haaland v. Brackeen, a case that will decide whether the ICWA is constitutional. Kimberly Jump-CrazyBear, Osage and Oglala of Virginia hold a sign in support of ICWA. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye/Indian Country Today)

Kimberly Jump-CrazyBear held up a self-made “Uphold ICWA” sign in front of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on the morning of November 9.

“I’m just here on behalf of all of you who can’t be here today. To help lend my voice,” she said before the start of oral argument for Haaland v. Brackeen. “Without our children, we no longer have a people.” Jump-CrazyBear is Osage and Oglala Lakota who grew up in Virginia.

As Jump-CrazyBear held and alternated their sign, a woman across the street at the rally said over loudspeakers, “If you take our kids, you take our identity.”

Jump-CrazyBear was one of hundreds of Indigenous people and allies who appeared before the nation’s highest court to show their support for the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Around 60 people lined up waiting to be seated inside the courthouse to watch the closing arguments. Many sat between the Capitol and the courthouse to listen to three hours of argument on their headphones, and others listened to the line of speakers and songs all morning and into noon.

Haaland v. Brackeen is challenging India‘s Child Protection Act, a law which has been called the “gold standard” in child protection by many child protection organisations. It was enacted in 1978 to “put an end to the unnecessary forced removal of indigenous children from their families”, said Sarah Kastelic, a registered citizen of the Ouzinkie indigenous village and executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

Sarah Kastelic, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association and a registered citizen of Ouzinkie’s native village, stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court with a sign in her language in Washington, DC on November 9, 2022. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian country today)

“So in our organization, one of the things we talk about is the colonization recipe,” Kastelic said. This recipe is “systematically followed by colonizers to colonize indigenous peoples”.

She said there were five ingredients:

“Take the land; »
“Controlling natural resources, in particular water; »
“Usurping, replacing indigenous governance to delegitimize indigenous thought; »
“Undermining Indigenous worldview, values, traditions and beliefs; ” and
And number five, “the most important ingredient,” she says, is to “separate Indigenous children from their sense of identity, their culture, their sense of belonging, that sense of connection to something. “.

This would fit the UN definition of genocide.

“So when we look at what the child welfare system has done, it’s been following the boarding school policy closely, as federal boarding schools have fallen in popularity, the child welfare system has taken over. where the education system left off,” Kastelic said. “It’s not a coincidence, it’s intentional.”

Among the dozens of people carrying ICWA signs was Bobbie Hamilton. She traveled 1,300 miles from El Reno, Oklahoma, with 150 citizens of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes to show their support.

Hamilton is on the front line of Indian child protection. She is an Indian social worker with the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and a foster worker. She retired from the US government as a registered nurse with Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

Hearing the oral arguments hit her hard, she said.

Bobbie Hamilton, of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, traveled 1,300 miles from Oklahoma to show her support for India’s Child Welfare Act before the United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC on November 9, 2022 (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)

“So every day we are faced with the trials and tribulations that they (the children) face. There is a trauma. There are a lot of feelings that kids have and try to deal with, and on a daily basis, and I’m there with them. I feel these feelings. I feel their frustration, and even their happiness when their happiness manifests itself. I am there with them,” Hamilton told the Supreme Court. “And so 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. Difficult decisions have to be made. And I’m right there with them, feeling the same.

Senior Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation was one of many leaders present at the three-hour hearing. The Cherokee Nation is the largest Indigenous nation in the country with over 430,000 citizens.

“The dispossession of Indigenous children from their families from tribal lands has caused measurable damage to the Indigenous peoples of this country over the centuries,” Hoskin said at a press conference after the hearing. “We were here today collectively, as Indigenous peoples, to argue in court that Indian Child Welfare Act is constitutional and to send a message to this country that we will not tolerate the dispossession of our children and the further erosion of our indigenous peoples.

Cherokee Nation Senior Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. speaks before the United States Supreme Court after the court heard oral argument Wednesday, November 9, 2022 in Haaland v. Brackeen, a case that will decide whether the ICWA is constitutional. (Photo by Pauly Denetclaw, Indian Country Today)
The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on Wednesday, November 9, 2022 in Haaland v. Brackeen, a case that will decide whether the ICWA is constitutional. Afterwards, ICWA advocates addressed the media. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)

Prior to ICWA’s passing, up to 35% of Native American and Alaska Native 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 as a whole.

“Keeping our children at home is where they belong,” Charles Martin, president of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. “We will do as 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 “agonizing.”

“In every generation we’ve had to fight this fight and I’m telling you to spend three hours in this courtroom with the highest court in this land, the Supreme Court and sit here and still feel like they don’t understand us , three hours of agonizing arguments, agonizing questions where they don’t understand the basic concept, that we have inherent sovereignty and we have inherent rights to the future of every Indigenous child born in this generation,” said Sharp.

As with many issues in Indian Country, ICWA enjoys bipartisan support. The leaders noted that it would be shocking if the Supreme Court did not uphold the law. During his speech, Sharp added that black money and special interest groups seeking to attack tribal sovereignty, that this case is not a normal Indian child welfare case.

“There is black money out there that strategically targets our children, our natural resources, our sacred sites. They want to keep enriching profits at our expense,” Sharp said. “We know that no matter what they do, we have a certain place in this life as Aboriginal people. We are in a position to inherit all that our Creator has given us. There’s not a single thing any of them can do to take that away from us, no law, no court order. They can’t buy into this and they can’t regulate us. We are sovereign tribal nations from the beginning of time until the end of time.

The Supreme Court’s decision on this case will be handed down in the spring of 2023.

This story originally appeared in Indian Country Today and is republished here with permission.


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