Date: June 16, 2023
Media Contact: BJ McManama:


Bemidji, MN– On June 15, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on the Haaland v. Brackeen case in a 7-2 decision upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) as constitutional. In an unprecedented move, big oil law firm Gibson Dunn–representing fossil fuel conglomerates like Energy Transfer and Enbridge– failed in their ludicrous attempt to attack ICWA as a means to curtail Tribal sovereign interests interfering with fossil fuels projects. In a huge win for Indian Country, the Court sided with Tribal sovereignty and rejected all of the petitioners’ arguments seeking to invalidate and overturn ICWA.


While ICWA aims to keep Indian children with Indian families in the United States, the key issues in the case centered on Tribal sovereignty. First, the Court upheld Congress’ power to legislate Indian Affairs based on the Constitution, treaty powers, and the United States’ trust responsibility to Tribes; ultimately, affirming that Tribal sovereignty and federal law supersede state authority. Second, on the issue of whether ICWA is a race-based law in violation of the equal protection clause, the Court rejected this argument on the grounds that none of the parties asserting that had legal standing to do so. This means that the issue could arise again, as Justice Kavanaugh makes clear in his short and misguided concurrence. The threat this poses to Tribal sovereignty cannot be understated, but the opinion of the Court is clear at this time–sovereignty wins.


“It is a huge relief that the Supreme Court completely upheld the constitutionality of ICWA, refusing to upend the core foundations of our sovereignty. In this historic moment, the Supreme Court recognizes its responsibility to remedy its past wrongs when dealing with Indian Affairs, and reaffirmed that protection of Native children and families is at the top of that list,” said Jordan Harmon (Mvskoke), Policy Analyst and Legislative Advocate at the Indigenous Environmental Network.


In a powerful concurrence, Justice Gorsuch leaves no room for questioning the sovereign status of Tribes, the constitutionality of ICWA, and the importance of protecting Native children and families, “Our Constitution reserves for the Tribes a place—an enduring place—in the structure of American life. It promises them sovereignty for as long as they wish to keep it. And it secures that promise by divesting States of authority over Indian affairs and by giving the federal government certain significant (but limited and enumerated) powers aimed at building a lasting peace. In adopting the Indian Child Welfare Act, Congress exercised that lawful authority to secure the right of Indian parents to raise their families as they please; the right of Indian children to grow in their culture; and the right of Indian communities to resist fading into the twilight of history. All of that is in keeping with the Constitution’s original design.”


Tom BK Goldtooth (Diné/Dakota), Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network emphasizes, “The U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the sovereign rights of Tribes to protect our children, and our sovereign rights are based on our inherent rights given to us by Creator. This decision not only affirms our rights over protecting our children, but also our jurisdictional rights to our land, air, and water. However, this decision still leaves the door open for Tribal sovereignty to be challenged again. As Indigenous Peoples, we must remain vigilant and steadfast in protecting and defending Tribal sovereignty.”


Indigenous Rising Radio

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