A Rebuttal:

In a July 12th commentary in North Dakota papers, attorneys Tobias Rushing and Robert Moddelmog criticizedJoseRodrigues2005 former ND Lt. Governor Lloyd Omdahl for his July 1st column concerning the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Mr. Omdahl had stated that ICWA is “sacrificing children to protect the heritage of the tribes.”  Rushing and Moddelmog noted that “the findings of Congress’s Indian Child Welfare Act Commission of 1973 show…the contrary.”   I am certain it is not lost on readers that these findings are 40 years old.  Now let’s discuss today.

I’m appalled that attorneys would make the absolute statementAn abusive Indian family does not take precedence over a safe non-Indian family, ever.” A three-year-old girl was thrown down an embankment and beaten to death in Spirit Lake just last month. Clearly, abusive extended family DID take precedence over a safe non-Indian family. Other examples:

  1. A Detective in Bonney Lake, WA, was forced by ICWA social workers to leave a toddler he’d been raising at the home of a suspected drug dealer.
  2. Because social workers believed ICWA demanded it, the Rodriguez boys of California were taken from the home of their Hispanic grandparents and placed with their maternal grandmother on the Ute Reservation – a woman who had abused and lost custody of her own children. Within three weeks, the oldest boy was permanently brain damaged from beatings.
  3. Sierra McGaughey joined us in DC, February, 2013, to tell Congressional staff that she was torn from a safe home off the reservation and placed in a dangerous relatives’ home, where she was given to a man as a sexual partner at the age of 10. She begged to return to where she felt loved, but wasn’t allowed until she tried to hang herself at age 16.

There are many stories from across the country.

Thomas Sullivan, Regional Administrator of the Administration of Children and Families in Denver, stated in his 12th Mandated Report to the ACF office in DC, February 2013:

“In these 8 months I have filed detailed reports concerning all of the following:

  1. The almost 40 children returned to on-reservation placements in abusive homes, many headed by known sex offenders… These children remain in the full time care and custody of sexual predators available to be raped on a daily basis. Since I filed my first report noting this situation, nothing has been done by any of you to remove these children to safe placements.
  2. The 45 children who were placed, at the direction of Tribal Social Services (TSS), BIA social workers, BIA supervised TSS social workers and the BIA funded Tribal Court, in homes where parents were addicted to drugs and/or where they had been credibly accused of abuse or neglect…

“…Those adults remain protected by the law enforcement which by its inaction is encouraging the predators to keep on hunting for and raping children at Spirit Lake.


Rushing and Moddelmog also state, “studies showed that American Indian children who have been removed from their ethnic and cultural heritage often suffer a host of psychological and identity issues, not counting the damage caused by the initial removal.”

Yet, without any concern for psychological effect, ICWA is frequently used to remove children from non-Indian homes that better reflect their ethnic and cultural heritage than a home on the reservation. Tribal apologists claim that children of even minute heritage who’ve never lived anywhere near a reservation or with a tribal member are going to suffer identity issues, as if there is an inherent gene that makes these children different from any other. In some circles, that is referred to as “racism.”

Rushing and Moddelmog include a quote from Judge William Thorne that “more than 60 percent of American Indian children in non-native foster care who age out of the system “are homeless, in prison, or dead by age 20.”  Where are comparison percentages for children raised in native foster care?  Further, these children were fostered due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Many suffer with fetal alcohol related issues. How can the sole reason for struggle be due to non-native homes?

Finally, while an American Indian grandmother who adopts a child qualifies for the benefits of any adoptive parent, most children are not “adopted” by extended Indian family. In Minnesota, those caring for unadopted relatives receive “Relative Custody Assistance,” which can be over $700 per child per month. I am speaking from personal experience having been an ICWA approved home.

Yup, I “raked in” thousands of dollars in state benefits as an ICWA home. Over 16 years, it added up to almost $90,000, not including medical care the kids received from the state. And I am first to say these children would’ve been better off had a therapeutic foster home trained to take care of special needs been allowed – no matter the heritage of the foster parents.

It is time for balder-dash to end and genuine concern begin.

Quoting Mr. Omdahl, “It is time to take another look at the federal foster care and adoption policy that keeps Indian children in homes that threaten their well-being while safe homes are automatically ruled out.”


Elizabeth Sharon Morris is Chairwoman of the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare and author of ‘Dying in Indian Country.’ http://dyinginindiancountry.com/


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