On November 9, the Supreme Court heard the case Haaland v. Brackeen. You might not have seen much about it; media coverage has been spotty. I will drop us into the center of it with the lead of our guest’s recent piece for Truthout.org: Anywhere colonizers have invaded, Indigenous children have been separated from their communities. Whether through boarding or residential schools, child protective services, or outright murder, the theft of Indigenous children destroys tribal nations—which is what’s at stake in the US Supreme Court case Haaland v. Brackeen. Nominal plaintiffs in the case, Chad and Jennifer Brackeen, fostered a Native child whom they subsequently adopted, but were upset that they might not be able to as easily adopt his half-sister. But, as with many Supreme Court cases, their story is not the story, which extends far beyond them. It requires critical, thoughtful, human rights–centered storytelling to untangle an intentionally snarled story, to explain what—and who, really—are truly at stake.
Speaker Ronald Mariano must call for an immediate floor vote towards the passage of An Act to Protect Native American Heritage. The November 10 Harvard statement is indicative of a broader issue of how our sacred objects and our human remains continue to be held captive for racist, eugenicist, and colonialist means,” said Jean-Luc Pierite, member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, and president of North American Indian Center of Boston, “We must act to refine the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) enforcement on the state level to include all publicly funded entities. Consultation and repatriation or rematriation are essential to putting our ancestors to rest. We mourn especially for children separated from their families and lost to boarding schools.
The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are inscribed above the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. The terse phrase powerfully underscores the conviction that the nation’s judiciary occupies a special plane of existence in which momentous decisions are made in a protected sphere of legal purity. For many Supreme Court watchers, however, the court’s recent rulings overturning abortion rights, expanding gun rights, limiting the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and blurring the lines separating church and state reflect the alarming impact of an ultra-conservative majority among justices. Indeed, a September 2022 Gallup poll shows that 42 percent of Americans think the Supreme Court is too conservative, a new high for that response.
If the Supreme Court overturns the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) — a federal law that keeps Native children with Native families — tribal sovereignty could soon be a thing of the past in the U.S. Should the Supreme Court rule in the plaintiffs’ favor in the case of Brackeen v. Haaland, we could quickly see a return to blatant, pre-1978 genocidal practices — when Native babies were legally stripped of their families, culture, and identities. It’s critical that every one of us take immediate action. Before you do anything else today, sign our petition telling President Biden and the Department of Justice to defend ICWA, Secretary Haaland, and tribal sovereignty with every available means. In this landmark case, the Brackeens — the white, adoptive parents of a Diné child in Texas — seek to overturn ICWA by claiming reverse racism.