Arizona California Colorado Courts Culture Domestic Policy Legal and Judicial Life Nevada New Mexico Oklahoma Political Thought Texas The Constitution Top Issues Utah Welfare

Haaland v. Brackeen: Tribal Sovereignty Wins

The Supreme Court of the United States affirms a significant victory for tribal sovereignty, protecting the cultural identity of Native Americans.

Originally published at on June 22, 2023.

In a significant victory for the preservation of tribal sovereignty, the Supreme Court recently handed down a landmark decision in the consolidated case Haaland v. Brackeen. This ruling upheld the constitutionality and importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), affirming its role in safeguarding the welfare and cultural identity of Native American children.

ICWA, enacted in 1978, was born out of a recognition of the historical injustices inflicted upon Native American families and communities through the forced removal and assimilation of their children. Its purpose is to address the alarmingly disproportionate rates at which Native American children were being removed from their families and placed into non-Native foster care or adoption. The primary goal is to ensure that Native American children are placed within their extended families, their tribes, or other Native American families whenever possible.

One of the key strengths is its emphasis on preserving the cultural identity of Native American children. By prioritizing placement options within Native American communities, the unique cultural heritage and traditional values are prioritized, contributing to the overall well-being of these children. This recognition allows them to maintain a connection to their tribal roots, language, customs, and traditions, which are vital for their sense of belonging.

Haaland v. Brackeen consolidated three additional cases: Cherokee Nation v. Brackeen, Texas v. Haaland, and Brackeen v. Haaland. Chad and Jennifer Brackeen filed an adoption petition in a Texas District Court, which was challenged by the Navajo Tribe. The Brackeens then took the case to the U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, and several Native American tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, Oneida Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, and Morongo Band of Mission Indians, joined the case. The U.S. District Court initially ruled that ICWA was unconstitutional.

However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this decision in a panel opinion. Upon rehearing the case en banc, the full Fifth Circuit Court held that certain parts of the ICWA were constitutional, while other parts that required state agencies to take specific actions were unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment.

The case was heard on November 9, 2022, and the decision was announced on June 15, 2023. The Supreme Court affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s determination that the ICWA is consistent with congressional powers. The appellant’s claims that the ICWA violated the Tenth Amendment were rejected, overturning the Fifth Circuit’s decision. However, the Supreme Court did not make any rulings regarding the appellant’s claims related to the Fourteenth Amendment due to a lack of standing.

The Supreme Court’s decision reinforces the fundamental principles of tribal sovereignty. An inherent right exists for tribal governments to determine the best interests of their children. By involving tribes in child custody proceedings and placement decisions, ICWA respects the autonomy and authority of tribal nations. This fosters stronger relationships between tribes and state child welfare agencies, working towards mutually beneficial solutions for the well-being of Native American children.

Contrary to the Goldwater Institute’s claims, ICWA does not solely rely on race as a determining factor for child welfare decisions. Instead, it considers tribal membership and the preservation of Native American heritage, ensuring that these children are not forcibly assimilated into non-Native households. The Goldwater Institute’s efforts to dismantle ICWA disregard the important cultural and historical context behind the law and undermine the well-being, sovereignty, and rights of Native Americans.

Child welfare systems are compelled to acknowledge and address the biases and prejudices that have historically influenced the removal and placement of Native American children. This law provides a framework for fair and equitable treatment, ensuring that Native American children receive the same protections and opportunities as their non-Native peers.

Are tribes sovereign? The case fundamentally and definitively answers the question. Yes, they are. This decision is a monumental step towards preserving tribal sovereignty and protecting the cultural identity of Native American children.

Originally published at on June 22, 2023.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Exit mobile version