As an adoptive dad who nearly lost two children to the Indian Child Welfare Act, I too am familiar with the history behind this federal law.
In “Indian child law needs full compliance” (Point of View, July 20), Terry Cross presents the same arguments for ICWA as were given more than three decades ago. It's time for new talking points.
We live in a much different society than we did when children were being removed from reservations and Indian Country in large numbers, often for unwarranted reasons, and forced to assimilate into majority culture. Yet the application of ICWA has extended far beyond what Congress ever intended, and is harming countless children as a result.
Cross states that ICWA is based on “political” status, not race. Regardless, this political status is ultimately based on the child's race. A child's membership in a tribe is based on that child's blood connection to the tribe. Calling this racial status “political” is a convenient legal fig leaf concealing race-matching. This “political status benefit” means that Indian children wait longer to find adoptive homes.
Cross says the law is intended to “balance the rights of Indian children, Indian parents and Indian tribes.” Yet children's rights to secure, stable placements are ignored daily as ICWA's placement preferences are invoked. Children are ripped out of homes where they've formed deep attachments, all in the name of tribal sovereignty. Their rights as Americans mustn't be subjugated to their “rights” as Indians.
Cross states: “ICWA ensures that nobody … may infringe on a child's right to access the benefits of being a tribal citizen.” Should culture be forced upon a child who has never been a part of it? Like many children hurt by this law, my sons are multi-racial (6 percent Indian). They have a right to embrace all of their ancestry, not just their Indian ancestry.
Interestingly, it's the tribe that has denied our sons' rights as “tribal citizens.” We've reached out to the tribe and visited the reservation. The tribe has responded with nine years of silence. Does the tribe no longer acknowledge my children simply because we adopted them?
ICWA “protects Indian parents from having their children removed for baseless reasons,” Cross writes. No children, regardless of race, should be removed from their homes for baseless reasons. Changes in child welfare laws require that child welfare officials work hard to ensure this doesn't happen. We don't need a law that protects just one class of children from baseless removals.
Cross contends it was a failure to comply with ICWA that led to the tragic custody battle in Baby Veronica's case. I disagree. It was the unfair exploitation of the law's loopholes that gave rights to a biological father who would have had no rights under state law, resulting in an innocent little girl's world being turned upside down in an instant. Ask members of Congress if that's what they intended when they passed ICWA. I think we know what their answers would be.
Moore, of Long Beach, Calif., is an adoptive father of six children, three of whom are part Indian. He is director and co-founder of Home Forever, and a founding member of the Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children & Families. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.