By Dan Linke
A recent, news-making, end-of-term Supreme Court decision concerning Native American rights has a connection to an important collection within the Public Policy Papers. In Haaland v. Brackeen, the Court affirmed the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978. The Act set federal standards aimed at keeping Native American children involved in adoption, custody, and foster care cases within their tribes. It reversed a previous practice in which Native American children were routinely removed from their tribes, separating them from both extended family and cultural traditions.
The 1978 passage of the ICWA was supported by many tribes and organizations, including the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA), whose records are held in the Public Policy Papers. Established in the 1920s by New Yorkers interested in Pueblo art, the organization grew to advocate for the interests of Native Americans, including education, industry, health and sanitation, land tenure, irrigation, religion, and autonomy. By 1973, Princeton University anthropologist Alfonso Ortiz of the Pueblo of San Juan (and the first Native American to serve as AAIA’s president) said, “The Association has set as its major and immediate goal the comprehensive implementation of Indian self-determination in all its aspects…” This led to AAIA’s active support of the enactment of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is documented in over 20 boxes detailing AAIA’s work on the Act’s proposal, drafting, and passage, as well as its subsequent efforts implementing the Act and studying its impact.
In the Haaland case, the Supreme Court rejected a states’ right argument that would have gutted the ICWA, instead deciding by 7-2 that the Congress does have the constitutional authority to pass legislation to “secure the right of Indian parents to raise their families as they please; the right of Indian children to grow in their culture; and the right of Indian communities to resist fading into the twilight of history.”