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Welcome to FCNL’s Native American Legislative Update! NALU is a monthly newsletter about FCNL’s Native American policy advocacy and ways for you to engage members of Congress.

U.S. Supreme Court Votes to Uphold Protections for Native Children

In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a significant victory for Native American rights when it upheld critical provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Congress enacted ICWA 45 years ago to rectify decades of government-enforced removal of Native children from their families in a deliberate effort to erase their cultural identity and tribal citizenship. FCNL helped draft and advocate for the passage of ICWA in 1978.

To protect Native children, the law established a clear hierarchy of adoption priorities courts must follow before placing a Native child with a non-Native family. According to these guidelines, the primary preference is to place children with a member of their extended family, a member of their tribe, or a family from another tribal nation, before they can be placed with a non-Native family. This framework ensures that Native children can maintain cultural and tribal connections whenever possible, promoting their overall well-being, and preserving their heritage.

The court ruled on June 15, that ICWA does not unlawfully impose a federal mandate on areas of authority traditionally regulated by states. In writing for the majority, Justice Amy Coney Barrett referred to two centuries of long-standing precedent that grant Congress power to legislate on Native American affairs, including family law.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch referenced the legacy of Indian boarding schools. He wrote that ICWA secures “the right of Indian parents to raise their families as they please; the right of Indian children to grow in their culture; and the right of Indian communities to resist fading into the twilight of history.”

House Natural Resources Committee Protects Wounded Knee Site

Memorial Site at Wounded Knee. This monument is erected by surviving relatives and other Ogalala and Cheyenne River Sioux Indians

On June 13, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the Wounded Knee Sacred Site and Memorial Land Act (H.R. 3371). The proposed legislation mandates that the Secretary of the Interior take all necessary steps to preserve the land at the site of Wounded Knee, where the U.S. Army massacred numerous Lakota Indians. The bill designates the area as tribal land under the ownership of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

In September 2022, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe purchased the land and agreed to maintain the land as a memorial. If the property receives a federal designation, it can continue to be owned by the tribes and protected as a sacred site.

Bill Tracker

Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act of 2023 (S. 1723)

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs unanimously approved a revised version of S. 1723. The revised version includes technical clarifications on the abilities of the Truth and Healing Commission. One amendment altered the Commission’s ability to issue subpoenas for information needed for their investigations. To be issued, a subpoena must have unanimous support by the Commission.

What We’re Reading

Lacina Tangnaqudo Onco, Congressional Advocate, Native American Advocacy Program

Lacina Tangnaqudo Onco

Consultant, Native American Advocacy Program

Lacina Tangnaqudo Onco managed the Native American Advocacy program from 2017-2019.