In a major win for Native families, Supreme Court Upholds the Constitutionality of ICWA

Published on Jun 15, 2023

Today’s decision is a massive victory for Native children, Native families, and the future of Native peoples. The Court’s decision affirmed that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is constitutional, puts the best interests of Native kids first, and is grounded in tribal sovereignty. This ruling respects the work that Tribal Nations have done for millennia to ensure Native kids stay connected to their families, communities, and cultures whenever possible.

Not only will this ruling allow Indian Country to continue to advocate for the best interests of Native children, but it also reaffirms what we have said and known all along: Tribal Nations are sovereign nations. Similar to states or foreign countries, Tribal Nations have the inherent powers of self-government and have the right to provide for the social, economic, safety, and cultural needs of their citizens.

For too long, ICWA’s opponents have used cases like Haaland v. Brackeen to try to undermine tribal sovereignty. Today, the Justices have sent a clear message that these biased, ahistorical attacks have no legal foundation and will not be tolerated. We hope this decision will lay to rest the political attacks, but let this case show that Indian Country and its many bipartisan allies are united in defense of Native children and of tribal sovereignty. 

Today’s ruling is a ringing endorsement of the protections that ICWA requires. The ruling reinforces that ICWA is binding federal law. The court’s opinion adds momentum to collective efforts to increase ICWA compliance, enact state-based ICWA laws that build on ICWA’s strong foundation, and continue to support tribal child welfare and justice systems.

Indian Country stands together in joy with the countless allies who have supported us throughout this case.

Statement from NCAI President Fawn Sharp:

"This victory now means the extraordinary vision of Tribal Leaders who fought so long and hard to pass ICWA in 1978 is now perfected and will be the law of the land for generations to come. Our children, our future and our very existence as Native people will no doubt continue to survive and thrive just as our Creator intended and ancestors envisioned. Our prayers were answered and today we honor every voice that joined us to make clear Tribal Nations have an inherent sovereign right to protect the interests of our children and future."

About the Protect ICWA Campaign:
The Protect ICWA Campaign (the Campaign) was established by four national Native organizations: the National Indian Child Welfare Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and the Native American Rights Fund. Together, the Campaign works to serve and support Native children, youth, and families through upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Campaign works to inform policy, legal, and communications strategies with the mission to uphold and protect ICWA.

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