Attorney General Holder Announces ICWA Initiative

From the text of his speech:

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Department of Justice is launching a new initiative to promote compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.  Under this important effort, we are working to actively identify state-court cases where the United States can file briefs opposing the unnecessary and illegal removal of Indian children from their families and their tribal communities.  We are partnering with the Departments of the Interior and Health and Human Services to make sure that all the tools available to the federal government are used to promote compliance with this important law.  And we will join with those departments, and with tribes and Indian child-welfare organizations across the country, to explore training for state judges and agencies; to promote tribes’ authority to make placement decisions affecting tribal children; to gather information about where the Indian Child Welfare Act is being systematically violated; and to take appropriate, targeted action to ensure that the next generation of great tribal leaders can grow up in homes that are not only safe and loving, but also suffused with the proud traditions of Indian cultures. Ultimately, these children – and all those of future generations -represent the single greatest promise of our partnership, because they will reap the benefits of our ongoing work for change.  In the last six years, we have worked together in a shared effort to end misunderstanding and mistreatment, and to bring about a triumph of vision over the status quo; of ingenuity over incapacity; and of progress over stagnation.  We have laid an enduring foundation as we strive to empower vulnerable individuals, and give them the tools they need not to leave their communities, but to bolster them; not to abandon their ways of life, but to strengthen them.

Of course, there are many more challenges still before us.  And we’ve seen all too clearly that the barriers erected over centuries of discrimination will not be surmounted overnight.  But we face a brighter future today because we have placed our faith not in conflict or division, but in cooperation and respect; in the understanding that, though we live in different cultures, with different traditions, we share the same values.  We believe that sovereign nations have the right to protect their citizens from harm, and that no perpetrator of domestic violence should be granted immunity because of the color of his skin.

We understand that promises of autonomy have meaning, and should not be overturned through the changing desires of different federal Administrations.  And we recognize that any child in Indian Country – in Oklahoma, or Montana, or New Mexico – is not fundamentally different from an African-American kid growing up in New York City.  And neither child should be forced to choose between their cultural heritage and their well-being.

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