U.S. Supreme Court building.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear constitutional challenges tomorrow to a long-established law that protects Native children from being removed from their families.

The Indian Child Welfare Act requires state agencies to work with tribes on child home placements. Iowa Assistant Attorney General Diane Murphy Smith says overturning the law would be devastating to tribal communities.

Smith says, “In state court, we’re really facing huge implications for our Native children and Native families, and our tribal state agreements.” She says it would scale back the state’s ability to serve and collaborate with the Meskwaki tribe in Iowa. Before the law passed in 1978, around one-fourth of Native children were taken from their families by state child welfare agencies. Of those, 85-percent ended up in non-Native homes.

Great Plains Action Society representation director Jessica Engelking says reversal of the law would undo decades of work to protect Native children. Engelking says, “I’m absolutely terrified of going back to a time where our children were just stolen with impunity, more so than they are now.” The law’s opponents argue the legislation discriminates based on race, but tribes say being Native is a political designation, not a racial one, which means tribal sovereignty is also under threat.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed an amicus  brief, urging the court to reject the challenges.

(By Kendall Crawford, Iowa Public Radio)

Radio Iowa