The Indian Child Welfare Act at 40

Written by: Kathryn Fort

Primary Source : Turtle Talk, November 8, 2018

On this date in 1978, President Carter signed the Indian Child Welfare Act into law.

Senator Abourezk introduced the bill to the Senate on April 1, 1977, and the Senate voted on it on November 4, 1977. Interestingly, while Sen. Goldwater supported the purpose of the bill, he did not vote on the Senate’s version of ICWA. He was traveling back to Arizonathe night of the vote.

The House Resolution (H.Res. 1374) to consider the bill was introduced by Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, on September 22, 1978. The House voted on the bill on October 14, 1978.

The Act was obviously the work of more people than can be named in a post, but here are the names of just some of the Native women activists identified in the book A Generation RemovedMrs. Fournier and the mothers’ delegation of Fort Totten, Margaret Townsend(Fallon, Nevada) Evelyn Blanchard (Laguna and Yaqui), Eloise Doan (Blackfeet), Goldie Denny (Quinault), the women of the Wisconsin American Indian Child Placement and Development Program, the North American Indian Women’s Association, Janet McCloud (Tulalip and Nisqually), Maxine Robbins (Yakama), Betty Jack (Ojibwe), and Ramona Bennett, Chairwoman of the Puyallup Tribe who was denied a seat at the National Tribal Chairmen’s Association because she was a woman, and when finally allowed in, told the chairmen that while they were talking about fishing and housing and natural resources, they needed to do something about the children who were being taken away too.

As always, NARF has all of the legislative history online and searchable, which is full of important work like the letter from Eric Eberhard on behalf of the Navajo Nation, or the original statistical report from AAIA or the letter from Don Milligan at the “Indian Desk” State of Washington Department of Social and Health services detailing in 14 pages the way PL-280 was destroying tribal families.

Spending time in the legislative history of ICWA is both humbling and inspiring and a good way to spend some time on this fortieth anniversary.


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Kathryn Fort
Kathryn (Kate) E. Fort is the Staff Attorney and Adjunct Professor for the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law. She joined the Center in 2005 as the Indigenous Law Fellow. In her role with the Center, she co-teaches an experiential learning class, researches and writes on behalf of Center clients and on topics in federal Indian law and manages administrative aspects of the Center. Ms. Fort has written articles on laches and land claims and the Indian Child Welfare Act. Ms. Fort graduated magna cum laude from Michigan State University College of Law with the Certificate in Indigenous Law, and is licensed to practice law in Michigan. Prior to law school, Ms. Fort worked for Congresswoman Lois Capps' 1998 congressional campaign, the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 Presidential race, the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. She received her B.A. in History with honors from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.