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May 2013 Policy Update

May 17, 2013

Sequestration:

As we know, sequestration is impacting the federal budget and its effects on Tribal lands continues to be a topic in Washington DC. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and Indian Country leaders met in Washington DC during the week of April 22nd to facilitate a dialogue with the federal government about trust responsibilities.  In support of this, NCAI released a paper “Honoring the Promises to Tribal Nations in the Federal Budget.” This paper demonstrates the severity of the impacts of sequestration.

According to NCAI’s analysis, these budget reductions are impacting federal trust obligations to Tribal Nations for services such as public safety, education, healthcare, social services and tribal governmental services.  These reductions in spending will “impede economic recovery in addition to causing increased poverty and hardship for Indian Country.” (NCAI: A Call to Honor the Promises to Tribal Nations in the Federal Budget, pp 7) Additionally, in April NCAI also released an Analysis of the Obama Administration Budget outlining its effects on Indian Country.

The meetings included a Joint Tribal Budget Meeting on Capitol HillHouse and Senate hearings in various committees, and the Department of the Interior.   At the Joint Tribal Budget Meeting, several tribal leaders explained how hard sequestration has hit their respective Nations (for more information scroll down here).

UPDATE: Please check out Mark Trahant‘s blog on Austerity and Indian Country for new commentary and facts.

ICWA Update on Supreme Court Case: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

In February we talked briefly about this case and what it could mean for the Indian Child Welfare act (here). The focus of this important case is on the welfare of baby Veronica, a Cherokee girl, who was placed up for adoption. Her biological father (Cherokee) was not informed and a non-Native couple was in process of adopting her when he was notified.  The case surrounds her welfare and could impact the Indian Child Welfare Act.

This case was argued before the Supreme Court on April 16, 2013 and awaits a decision.  The National Indian Child Welfare Association has created a guide to proceedings that is easy to follow (here). They have provided a layman’s interpretation of the questions the Supreme Court is deciding:

  1. Should ICWA be interpreted to include the Existing Indian Family Exception? EIFE posits that ICWA was designed only to prevent the breakup of existing Indian families where a state court determines if the child, but for the adoption, would have grown up with strong ties to tribal culture.
  2. Does ICWA’s definition of “parent” require unwed fathers to meet state law requirements to establish and acknowledge paternity or consent to an adoption?
  3. Additionally, the Court is also being asked to weigh in on the constitutionality of ICWA itself.

NCAI has been very active in this case as well.  On April 29th, the Executive Director Jacqueline Pata spoke on MSNBC about the History and Contemporary Context of the Indian Child Welfare Act.  Additionally, NCAI has a good summary and collection of resources with regard to the case (here).

UPDATE: On 5/15/13, an ICWA Summit was held in Rapid City, South Dakota to talk about these issues and the alarming number of cases of Native children adopted out of their tribe despite the law in the state of South Dakota.  The state did not show up to the summit.  Here is the NPR report on the story.