NARF Testimony Strengthens the Indian Child Welfare Act in the State of Wisconsin
In September, NARF Staff Attorney Mark Tilden represented the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) and provided testimony for the Wisconsin Legislature on a LRB 0150/3, which would enact a state Indian Child Welfare Act into law.
To begin, Tilden testified that the bill is designed to remedy the continuing problem of Native American children being disproportionately over-represented in the substitute care system. Tilden discussed the history of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), stating that Congress intended to give the ICWA a broad scope because of the massive problem it meant to remedy. Tilden pointed out that the ICWA's enactment stemmed from a growing tribal and federal concern in the late 1960s and early 1970s regarding the intentional and unintentional practices of non-tribal public and private child welfare agencies leading to the disproportionate and often unwarranted separation of Indian children from their families. The testimony maintained that through the ICWA, Congress has made a determination that tribes be given every opportunity to maintain their membership, that Indian children have a right to their heritage, and that tribal rights to determine the future of their children be protected and fostered. The ICWA and its history plainly show Congress’ intent to protect the existence and integrity of tribes and to protect and foster the best interest of Indian children. As such, the State of Wisconsin, through its bill, would help remedy an existing and persistent problem and act to serve the best interest of Indian children in the State of Wisconsin.
Tilden concluded that the bill articulates a cooperative and collaborative approach between the sovereign Indian nations located in Wisconsin and the State, demonstrating the State of Wisconsin’s intent to clearly recognize and reinforce tribal sovereignty as an essential means of achieving the federal ICWA’s objectives, which are echoed in the bill, and also to provide an even greater possibility for improving services and outcomes for Indian children in the State.
On October 20, 2009, both the Senate and Assembly of the State of Wisconsin Legislature approved and passed the bills. The legislation will help make certain that the State complies with the requirements of the ICWA.