In front of a small crowd at the Casino Del Sol on Aug. 23, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe codified a partnership with Arizona to keep its children safely connected to their communities and culture, should the federal Indian Child Welfare Act be overturned.
This means that the Arizona Department of Child Safety would be required to let the tribe intervene in state custody cases, like terminating parental rights or adoptions involving Pascua Yaqui children. It also signifies that these children will continue to grow up in the Pascua Yaqui way, according to their traditions, Chairman Peter Yucupicio told the Tucson Sentinel.
“We have a lot of families that struggle with finding placement and sometimes their children are sent to families all over the state and country,” he said. “It’s a sad thing because they don’t grow up a part of the community or the tribe and with all the cultural reasons we are Yaqui.”
The Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, is a 1978 law that was enacted to keep American Indian Children who enter foster care within their families and tribal communities.
This is one of many tribal-state relationships ahead of the Supreme Court decision in the Brackeen v. Haaland case, due to the likelihood that the justices could agree with the states’ claims that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is unconstitutional. Texas, Indiana and Louisiana are all listed as plaintiffs in the case, with Oklahoma and Ohio being the latest states to side with the Brackeens.
Brackeen v. Haaland hinges on the welfare case of a Cherokee and Navajo child being fostered and eventually adopted out by a white, evangelical couple in Fort Worth, Texas. After gaining full custody, Jennifer and Chad Brackeen sued the federal government on grounds that ICWA violated their rights as white adoptive parents, and is a racially discriminatory policy. Two other foster couples joined the Brackeens in the challenge to the federal law.
Several states across the U.S. have enacted their own versions of the law if ICWA protections are struck down by the Supreme Court. California and 23 other states including Washington, D.C., submitted a joint filing supporting tribal and federal parties. The Navajo Nation, Cherokee Nation, Oneida Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, and Morongo Band of Mission Indians have supported the defendants in the case, along with 497 Indian tribes and 62 tribal and Indian organizations. Additionally, 87 members of Congress denounced the challenge to the law that has aided against Indigenous family separation.
Arizona’s Department of Child Safety Director Mike Faust signed the agreement to solidify its collaborative relationship in child welfare cases with Pascua Yaqui, “regardless of federal protections or whatever happens.”