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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Editorializing ICWA: 40 Years of Colonial Commentary


"Sacrificing Indian Childrens' Rights"

"Paleface Paternalism"

"Justice Massacred"

"Ethnic Errancy"

"Rose Parade Indian-givers"

"Slaves to the tribe"

"Tribal bigotry"

"Kids pay the price for tribes"

The phrases listed above are published titles of newspaper editorials and op-ed essays challenging the legitimacy of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act ("ICWA") in the last 40 years. ICWA is a federal law originally passed in 1978 to address the high rate of removal (and subsequent adoption) of Indian children by state authorities. In passing the law, Congress found "there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children." While there was no significant controversy about the law when it was drafted and passed with unanimous consent in 1978, the application of the law over the past 40 years, the law has come under sustained attack from scholars, attorneys, legislators, think tanks, adoption agencies, and judges. Moreover, while most child custody cases impacted by ICWA are so conventional that they don't warrant any particular attention, almost all national news coverage of ICWA emanates from a few specific high-profile cases in which mainstream news outlets usually characterize ICWA as cultivating unfair battles between Tribal Nations and prospective adoptive parents. Editorials, though, often go further than that, using words like "sacrificing", "massacre", and "slaves" to describe both tribal citizens and tribal nations. This article focuses on how these high-profile cases are characterized in newspaper editorials and op-eds; namely how these authors explicate their colonial views about ICWA, Indian identity, tribal sovereignity, and the virtues of adoption.

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