Alaska Native leaders praise court decision in adoptions case
June 21, 2023
Alaska Native leaders and the state of Alaska have hailed the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The ruling preserves a 35-year-old law intended to address the harm caused by the federal government’s boarding school program by prioritizing the placement of Alaska Native and American Indian children into tribal homes.
“Like most Alaska Native and American Indian tribes from across the country, we have been anxiously awaiting this decision,” Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said in a prepared statement. “The wait is over, and the victory is ours. Our ways of life will continue through our children.”
ICWA, as the welfare act is commonly known, guides many — if not most — of the adoption and child custody cases that work their way through state courts in Alaska. The case also tested the legal principle that tribes are sovereign governments, with the same standing as the state or federal government.
Dozens of Alaska’s federally recognized tribes joined a friend-of-the-court brief last year, urging the Supreme Court to uphold the law.
“Today the Supreme Court upheld ICWA and today they upheld tribal sovereignty,” said President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, one of the tribes that signed the brief. “Our sovereignty was tested, and it was ICWA that won the day and was our truest expression of our sovereignty.”
Alex Cleghorn, chief operating officer of the Alaska Native Justice Center, said in a prepared statement: “This decision rightly recognizes tribal sovereignty and self-determination. It is a major victory for Alaska tribes, Alaska Native children, families, and the future of Alaska Native culture.”
In 2021, the state of Alaska joined other states in a friend-of-the-court brief that urged the justices to uphold the federal law. That saw Alaska make uncommon allies with California, Massachusetts, New York and other predominantly Democratic states.
“We understand and appreciate the value tribes bring to child welfare in Alaska,” Attorney General Treg Taylor said in a prepared statement. “Together, the state of Alaska and tribes have established the Tribal State Collaboration Group and Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact to work together to better serve Alaska Native and American Indian families.”
Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola and Sen. Lisa Murkowski praised the verdict as well, with Murkowski calling it “a victory for Native people.” Peltola, who is Alaska Native, said she is “overjoyed” with the Supreme Court’s decision.
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