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Tribal advocates feel 'Relief' After SCOTUS Indian Child Welfare Act ruling

Drew Angerer
Getty Images

Tribal advocates are cheering a U.S. Supreme Court decision Thursday which allows a landmark law dealing with child welfare cases to stand. It follows a tense period of worry and planning in states like North Dakota.

In a 7-2 ruling, the court upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act, adopted in 1978 to address the widespread issue of Native children being placed in non-Native homes for foster care or adoption. The law emphasizes keeping children within their tribal communities to maintain their cultural well-being.

Erin Dougherty Lynch, managing attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, said as for tribal sovereignty, the ruling is clear in affirming the precedents of long-standing federal Indian laws. She suggested those who still want to undermine such policies could encounter legal headwinds.

"I don't think it necessarily foreclosed future cases from them," Lynch asserted. "I have no doubt that they will continue to bring cases that challenge tribal sovereignty. But I think today's decision should make them think twice about whether or not those future cases will be successful."

Lynch hopes the case spurs more states to strengthen their own laws and practices in handling similar situations. She noted state-level laws can stretch further than the protections under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Rep. Davis added North Dakota's system is not perfect, but even prior to this year's efforts, it had been taking steps to make improvements within the courts and in communicating with tribal nations.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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