Nevada could soon join the growing list of states to codify the protections of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law.
Las Vegas Democrat Assemblywoman Shea Backus has drafted a bill that would enshrine the bedrock law’s protections statewide in case the federal law is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.
ICWA was passed in 1978 in an effort to prevent unnecessary separations of Indigenous families through the child welfare system, following an era where as many as a third of Native children were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools and white adoptive families.
The law requires child welfare authorities to make extra efforts to avoid taking Indigenous children into foster care. When these children do enter foster care, the law dictates an order of preferences on who should be considered to foster or adopt them: first priority goes to family members, then to members of their own tribe, then to families in other tribes. Non-Native homes are only supposed to be selected if none of those options are available.
The future of ICWA is in question as the Supreme Court weighs Brackeen v. Haaland, a case in which plaintiffs argue that ICWA unconstitutionally racially discriminates against non-Native prospective foster and adoptive parents. Supporters of the law maintain that the protections are based on members’ political standing as part of a sovereign tribe, rather than on race.
More than 3% of Nevada’s population — 105,790 people — have Native heritage, making them eligible for ICWA’s protections, according to 2020 Census data.
At least 11 other states have enshrined ICWA’s protections into their laws: California, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Connecticut. Wyoming is also considering a bill that would codify the law in that state.