The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has joined with a coalition of other national Native organizations in requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division launch an investigation into the unlawful treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children in private adoptions and public child welfare systems.  NARF joins with the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) in asking DOJ to take a stronger role in enforcing compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), a piece of landmark legislation passed to offset the cultural bias Congress found in state child welfare and private adoption systems that resulted in the unwarranted removal of nearly one in three Native children from their families.

NICWA Executive Director Terry Cross presented the letter on behalf of the four organizations during a meeting with DOJ hosted by Acting Attorney General for Civil Rights Jocelyn Samuels.  The organizations assert, “There is no question that where ICWA is applied, it has been integral to keeping countless Native American families together.”  However, the letter continues, “It is well known that there is minimal federal oversight over the implementation of, and compliance with, ICWA.”  The letter cites commonly reported infractions such as transporting Indian children across state lines in order to sidestep ICWA, the disregard of ICWA’s placement preferences, adoption attorneys encouraging circumvention of the law, and judges denying tribes a presence during child custody proceedings, among others.  “These stories highlight patterns of behavior that are, at best, unethical and, at worst, unlawful,” the letter states.  “Although these civil rights violations are well-known and commonplace, they continue to go unchecked and unexamined.  So long as this is the case, Native children and families will continue to be victims of the very systems designed to protect them.”

Read the letter to the Department of Justice.

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