Defending the Circle: Countering the Attack on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)


  • Stephen Sachs


The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted in 1978 to stop the harm caused to Indian children who were removed from their Indian nations to be adopted by non-Indians, without the consent of the concerned Indian Nations, and end the long-term damage caused to the tribes by the practice. ICWA, considered the "gold standard" of child welfare practice, initiated a significant improvement in child welfare policy in practice.

The attack on the act has long come largely from those both knowingly and unknowingly of the same imperialist mindset that thrust the destructive colonialism upon well working Indigenous communities that caused the serious harms that required the enactment of ICWA, as one aspect of rectifying the larger set of continuing injustices.

The importance of ICWA can best be understood by unfolding the story that led up to its passage and considering its impact. The telling flows from the time of precontact, well working, Native communities, through destructive colonialism, to developing self-determination. The later stages of events involve a general a shift in Western culture in which Indian self-determination and ICWA are an interacting part. The dynamics of change also include counterforces, encompassing those who oppose ICWA and self-determination.