A selection of The Imprint’s most impactful stories from the past year
Four years ago, a federal district court judge declared the Indian Child Welfare Act to be unconstitutional, setting in motion a case that could change protections for Indigenous families forever. The 44-year-old law, known widely as ICWA, was passed at a time when up to one-third of Native American children were separated from their families, frequently placed in Indian boarding schools or the adoptive homes of white families.
In November, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the matter, known as Brackeen v. Haaland, with the nation’s highest court likely to issue judgment by summer.
Outside the court on the day the Brackeen case was heard, the morning began with prayer and singing to the beat of animal-skin drums. The lyrics encouraged the justices and attorneys to “open their hearts and minds” so that they make the right decisions, and to “let the Creator join them.”
“The only reason why I’m alive today is because ICWA was applied in my case,” said Autumn Adams, a member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakama Nation, standing outside of the Supreme Court. “I carry it with me every day because that cultural connection I maintain through ICWA is why I stand before you and why I’m as successful as I am.”
As the court prepared to hear a challenge to ICWA, the Biden administration began an investigation into the dark history that made it necessary. Preliminary findings about the boarding school era found dozens of unmarked graves on school grounds; often, the Interior Department acknowledged, families were never told that their children had perished.
In July, Imprint reporter Nancy Marie Spears was on hand as Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — the nation’s first Indigenous cabinet secretary — kicked off her Healing Tour in Oklahoma, through which she plans to hear from hundreds of families impacted by the boarding school era.
“I want you all to know that I am with you on this journey, and I am here to listen. I will listen with you, I will grieve with you, I will weep you with you and I will feel your pain,” Haaland said at the opening stop of the tour in Oklahoma.