The Connecticut governor signed a new law late last month ensuring that federal protections for American Indian families are also enforced in state law — even if a pending U.S. Supreme Court case invalidates the related federal statute.
The legislation approved by Gov. Ned Lamont (D) ensures that proceedings involving an Indigenous child’s custody, placement in a foster or adoptive home or termination of parental rights “is conducted in accordance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.”
The federal Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, was passed in 1978 to curtail the indiscriminate separation of Indigenous children from their tribes and families by social workers, a practice that had skyrocketed in frequency at the time. The practice was widely viewed as a threat to tribal sovereignty, as children were being placed in foster care with and often adopted by non-Native families after centuries of forced displacement and violence by the government against tribes.
But in February, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on the constitutionality of the law, despite its broad, bipartisan support among tribes, tribal organizations and child welfare experts. The plaintiffs in Brackeen V. Haaland, with the support of conservative think tanks and some conservative state’s attorneys general, assert that the law should be tossed out for discriminating against families like the white Texas family named in the case.
The Day newspaper in Connecticut recently reported that the new Connecticut law codifying ICWA locally would apply to the state’s federally recognized tribes, which included the Mashantucket Pequots, and the Mohegans.
“It’s more about closing a loophole than anything,” said state Sen. Cathy Osten, an eastern Connecticut democrat. “Going back a number of years, extended tribal families weren’t always considered when a child was taken. Oftentimes, family members would have wanted to take the child in.”