This past June 15, 2023, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision related to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In the decision, the Supreme Court noted that the “Indian Child Welfare Act did not emerge from a vacuum. It came as a direct response to the mass removal of Indian Children from their families during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s by state officials and private parties.” The decision discussed Indian boarding schools which would “often seek to strip the children of nearly every aspect of their identity. The schools would take away their Indian names and give them English ones,” as just a few of the painful realities that the children encountered. As boarding schools were shuttered, “shifting racial ideologies and changing gender norms led to an increased demand for Indian children by adoptive couples.” Between “1969 to 1974 approximately 25 to 35% of all Indian children were separated from their families.” As a result of the removals toward adoptions, “many parents came to feel hopeless, powerless and unworthy,” while the children experienced, “severe distress that interfered with their physical, mental and social growth and development.”
As I write this reflection on Thanksgiving, I recognize the history that Indigenous families endured and continue to endure, is a history which is often forgotten in our mainstream or never discussed in our communities. Nevertheless, when we think about Thanksgiving, we must consistently remember the children and families that were torn apart by intentional policies. The government established the Indian Child Welfare Act as a response to the boarding schools and adoptions of Native and Indigenous children. The Act provided more protections and a heightened due process standard to ensure that ‘active efforts’ are made to keep Native children with their tribal connections. While the Act does not erase the legacy of trauma and pain Native families endured, it gives courts and states guidance that is rooted in respect for familial bonds of Native families.
Every November for the close to 30 years, the Carter G. Woodson Foundation gathers the men of the Gamma Gamma Gamma chapter of Omega Psi Phi, Inc, and our supporters at Mt. Zion Baptist Church to provide families with a Turkey, fresh vegetables, and side items for a Thanksgiving meal. In some cases, young men walk the items to the front door of residents in the community, especially for those who have limited mobility. While this small token does not fix the inequalities and pain many families experience, our goal is to ensure that at least for a day, monies can be spent on other items for families and their children. In the end, we realize this is our commitment, as small as it may be, to keeping a history of families being together alive. When you sit down to eat, just remember the history that preceded the need for ICWA as well as the families and their children who endured the horrors to strip them of language and culture. Say a prayer. Give a blessing and show your gratitude by learning about Indigenous and Native history in Wisconsin and commit to ensuring that you do so more than once a year on Thanksgiving.