Indian Child Welfare Act
University of North Dakota
SWK442 Social Policy
Kim Becker, LCSW
November 9, 2014
Historically, Native American tribes have struggled to keep their unique culture identities. This is largely due to the actions made by the federal and state governments as a result of ethnocentrism and indifference. In order to maintain cultural identity, generational traditions must continue from parents to their children and their children’s children. It is the very essence of how culture lives on in families and generations (Basic, 2004). From the time of the 1800’s, the Boarding School Movement, backed by the Federal Government, began the attempted cultural annihilation of the Native American (Indian) peoples. Indian children have been disadvantaged in child custody proceedings from the earliest beginnings of a common law system in the United States. “In the late 1960s and 1970s, between twenty-five and thirty-five percent of all Indian children nationwide were separated from their families and living in an adoptive family, foster care or an institution. Approximately eighty-five percent of these Indian children were placed with non-Indian families" (Wahl, 2000, pg. 118). “The placement of these children in non-Indian households threatened to "deprive tribes of the most basic necessity for their survival- a next generation" (Watts, 1989). In response to this threat, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), which allowed tribal governments some power in the intervention of the removal of Indian children. The purpose of this paper is to explore the history of the problem that propelled the federal government to create ICWA and define ICWA in the form of a policy analysis. History of the Indian Child Welfare Act: Historical Problems The historical problem that led to the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act began hundreds of years before the act was brought forth. As early as the mid 1600’s Native American families were being torn apart as European explorers kidnapped them back to Europe to be put on display. Many Native American families suffered at the hands of the newly formed federal government as part of the government policy of “exile or extermination” (Ross, 2006). In the 1800’s, the Board of Indian Commissioners decided that in order to deal with the “Indian problem”, they must separate the children from their tribes. With the backing of main government officials, Native American children were taken far away from their families to boarding schools with the goal for them to become “civilized” like the white men. Many of the Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes. When parents would not willingly send their children away, federal government employees would engage in “kid catching”, forcibly taking them to distant schools (Halverson 2002). Some Native families let their children go as it was the only available way for their children to obtain an education. If any of the family resisted, they were often killed. These ethnocentric thought processes continued as the children were shipped to different parts of the country, many to Catholic boarding schools in the belief that the Native people could be assimilated into “white ways”. A historian stated: Convinced of the superiority of the Christian civilization they enjoyed, they saw
no need to inquire about positive values in the Indian culture, nor to ask the Indians what they would like. With an ethnocentrism of frightening intensity, they resolved to do away with Indianness and to preserve only the manhood of the individual Indian. There would be no more Indian problem because there would be no Indians. (Prucha, 1973, pg. 57) In 1879, Captain Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, read a paper in Denver at the 19th annual Conference of Charities and Correction. It began: "A great...
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