ICWA Defense Project Memo on Recent Federal ICWA Cases


In February 2015, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) published its revisions to the Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings. The new guidelines address areas of Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) non-compliance that have occurred over the past 36 years. In March 2015, the BIA announced its intent to advance further reform by proposing for the first time ever, legally binding federal regulations, Regulations for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings, to govern the implementation of ICWA in state courts and agencies. The BIA received over 2,100 public comments during the notice and comment period that closed mid- May. The BIA will review these comments and then promulgate final regulations, likely by early spring 2016. A network of ICWA opponents has responded to the reforms by filing multiple lawsuits challenging the guidelines and ICWA’s constitutionality.

The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and the ICWA Appellate Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law—collectively known as the ICWA Defense Project—are working collaboratively to defend ICWA and the long overdue reforms to it introduced this year. This memo will summarize the pending litigation and describe some of the legal and communications strategies these partner organizations have developed to inform, advance, and unify a coordinated effort across Indian Country to respond to these attacks.

Also, here is the NICWA Board Resolution and
talking points for conversations with state Attorneys General.