Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Post

People and Planet: Keep an eye on the ICWA

Between 1819 and 1969, 408 special boarding schools existed in the United States and operated under a very different set of rules than other boarding schools adhere to. 

Attendance was mandatory regardless of whether or not the parents consented. Upon arrival, students had their hair cut short, were bathed in kerosene and renamed. They were forced to change their religion and were often displaced to unfamiliar communities where they were exploited for physical labor. They were made to speak a new language. 

Disciplinary measures for students who protested included dietary restrictions, threats of corporal punishment and confinement. They experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse. 500 children died at those schools that are known of, but the number will likely rise with continuous research.

The schools referenced above were run by the United States government, often alongside Christian missionaries. The children who attended those schools were Indigenous Americans, taken from their families in an attempt to eradicate Indigenous American culture and assimilate them to the standards of Western colonizers. 

In 1978, the Federal Government passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, aimed at ending the displacement of Indigenous children. Over 40 years later, the Supreme Court is expected to soon make a decision that could gravely endanger the wellbeing of Indigenous children across the United States in overturning the ICWA. The case that brought the ICWA into question is Haaland v. Brackeen

Haaland v. Brackeen began in Texas in 2016 when a ten-month-old Navajo boy was placed with Chad and Jennifer Brackeen after his mother was found to be using drugs. She eventually lost custody and the Brackeens wished to adopt the boy. However, the Navajo Nation stepped in and wanted him to be placed with a Navajo family. This failed and the child was ultimately placed with the Brackeens. The couple went on to attempt to adopt the boy’s sister through state court, but her extended Navajo family once again sought custody. The Brackeens filed suit in federal court to overturn the ICWA on grounds of racial discrimination.

Under the ICWA, there are different levels of priority when placing an Indigenous child who must be removed from their home. The priority levels are as such: “the child should be placed with a member of the child's extended family, other members of the child's tribe, or other Indian families. Second, the child could be placed in a foster home approved by the child's tribe, or third, in a foster home approved by the state or other non-Indian authority. Finally, they could be placed in an institution operated or approved by an Indian tribe.”

The preference for a child to go with their extended family in the event they are taken from their parents is not racial discrimination, it is putting the emotional wellbeing of the child first, regardless of their race. A whole other article could be written about the problems with the foster care system and the physical and mental scars it leaves on the children in the system.

However, it is even more important in the context of the ICWA because of the historical implications and potential resurrection of the institutions that allowed for a cultural genocide to occur and deaths of countless children to follow. 

Above all else, this article is a call for vigilance. The decision is no longer in the hands of the People, but regardless of what decision is made it is the duty of the People to keep a close eye on what happens next.

Megan Diehl is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note the views expressed in this column do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Megan? Email her at

Meg Diehl

Assistant Opinion Editor

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2016-2023 The Post, Athens OH