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Native Americans in Utah rejoice over Supreme Court adoption ruling

Posted at 5:19 PM, Jun 15, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — The president of the Navajo Nation called today's decision by the Supreme Court to preserve the system that gives preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings of native children "a monumental day for all of Indian countries."

On Thursday, in a 7-2 vote, the court upheld the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act.
Buu Nygren, the president of the Navajo Nation says the law protects not just Navajo children but all Indian children.

"i think it's great that the ICWA was upheld today and that it continues to pave the pathway of really trying to help tribal communities, help themselves and to really be able to raise our own," he said.

The law hits home for Dustin Jansen, the director for the Utah Division of Indian Affairs.

"Adoption is how we grew our family, you know, we weren't able to have children on our own and the adoptions that we went through, you know, three of the four we have, have been ICWA cases," he shared.

The court had taken up cases regarding the law twice before, once in 1989 and again 2013. The latest challenge came in the form of a broad attack from Republican-led states and white families who argued that the system is based on race.

"It can affect the relationships between states and tribes and the federal government," said Jansen, "and we need people to understand that."

Currently, there are 574 federally-recognized tribes across the U.S., including eight in Utah. Jansen says that according to data from the 2020 census, there are 60,000 Native Americans living in the state.

"We're hoping to make the awareness for the need of more native foster homes for our kids in care," explained Stephanie Benally with Utah Foster Care.

Benally adds that prior to the law being enacted, 25-35 percent of native children were removed from their homes and placed in non-native homes.

"I see that when our kids are placed in native homes, they thrive, they're connected to that the culture, to the language, to the food and so that's why it's really important that our kids remain in those native foster homes," she said.

As for the impact the high court's ruling will have, Heather Tanana, a research faculty member with the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, and a member of the Navajo Nation, believes it will help achieve better outcomes for Native American children.

"[It's] really important that it remained in place, and it's something that child welfare workers can rely on as a tool to help ensure the future of our children," she said.