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Berkeley Talks: The future of the Indian Child Welfare Act

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Sarah Deer
Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, is a University Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas, where she has a dual appointment in women, gender and sexual studies and in the Indigenous Studies Program.

Courtesy of Sarah Deer

In Berkeley Talks episode 192, Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and a University Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas, discusses the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law passed in 1978 that aims to keep Native children in their families and communities. She also talks about the recent Supreme Court decision in Brackeen v. Haaland, which upheld ICWA, and explores the future of ICWA.  

“I want to begin by just talking about why ICWA was passed, and it has to do with a very tragic history in the United States of removing children from Native homes,” said Deer, chief justice for the Prairie Island Indian Community Court of Appeals, at a UC Berkeley event in December 2023.  

“This issue really became a profound harm to Native people during the boarding school era, in which the policy of the federal government was to remove children from their Native homes and send them to boarding schools, sometimes thousands of miles away. At these boarding schools, the attempt was to civilize — so-called ‘civilize’ — Indian children, which was really a euphemism for destroying their identity.”  

Later in the talk, she continued, “We still see a need for ICWA because we still see a higher percentage of Native children being placed in out-of-home care. There may be a variety of reasons for that, but it took over a century to damage the relationship between Native children and their communities.” 

This Dec. 8 event was sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues, part of the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI). Its co-sponsors were the Center for Race and Gender; Native American Student Development; and the Native American Law Student Association.

Watch a video of Deer’s talk on ISSI’s YouTube page.