Peltola braces for Supreme Court to undermine Indian Child Welfare Act

a woman talks to people outside in a crowded space
Mary Peltola chats with voters at the Blueberry Arts Festival in Ketchikan, Alaska on August 6, 2022. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Congresswoman Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, and other House Democrats say they’re worried the U.S. Supreme Court is about to weaken the Indian Child Welfare Act, to the detriment of Native children and their tribes.

Peltola, the first Alaska Native person elected to Congress, previously worked as a tribal court judge. She said child custody cases were a mainstay. She stressed the importance of keeping children with their families or placing them within their tribe

“I think for every single human group, ever in existence, children, our precious children are our future,” she said at a congressional roundtable Tuesday. “And certainly, for Natives, it is no different.”

The roundtable discussion was similar to a hearing but was called by Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz. He lost the chairmanship of the House Resources Committee when Republicans became the majority party and can no longer set the agenda.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a challenge to ICWA brought by the state of Texas and a group of non-Native parents trying to adopt Indigenous children. Their lawsuit says the Indian Child Welfare Act makes unconstitutional distinctions based on race. Supporters of ICWA say it’s based on tribal affiliation.

Congress passed the law to reverse the wholesale alienation of children from their tribes.

“During the 1950s and 1960s, a terrifying national picture emerged. Native nations were losing children to state welfare systems at extraordinary rates,” New York University Law Professor Maggie Blackhawk said at the roundtable. “State governments separated over 100,000 of the estimated 400,000 Native children from their parents and placed those children in homes with no political, cultural or linguistic connection to their nations.”

The case is called Brackeen v. Haaland. The justices heard arguments in November. A ruling is expected by the end of June.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

Previous articleAlaska Senate passes bill allowing involuntary psychiatric commitments of up to 2 years
Next articleAlaska News Nightly: Tuesday, May 9, 2023