ICWA Under Attack:
How three organizations are seeking to erode a powerful protection for Indigenous rights
Chase Iron Eyes
A private consortium of over 350 professional adoption attorneys who make up to $100,000 for every Indian child whom they succeed in placing with their wealthy white clients has launched a cynical attack against the Indian Child Welfare Act.
The lawsuits, filed under the guise of civil rights claims on behalf of Native people, actually seek to dismantle the most important federal law that continues to safeguard the sovereignty of Indigenous tribes throughout the United States. The suits not only attack ICWA and a strengthened state law in Minnesota, but they seek to undermine guidelines recently released by the federal government as a result of an epidemic of state governments’ wholesale failures to abide by the provisions of the federal law.
Furthermore, the Lakota People’s Law Office in Rapid City, South Dakota has uncovered the proof that the plaintiffs in two of the three such Federal Civil Rights lawsuits recently filed in three different Federal Circuits have inappropriately close ties with the American Academy for Adoption Attorneys (AAAA).
“These lawsuits demonstrate nothing less than how far the American Association of Adoption Attorneys is willing to stoop to clear the way for them to pray on unwed Indian mothers so the adoption agencies can procure their babies and sell them to wealthy families,” said LPLP Chief Counsel Daniel Sheehan.
Each of the three lawsuits seeks to overturn the recently minted ICWA guidelines, released in March. Furthermore, these suits represent a bad faith and pernicious assault on ICWA itself, which stands in the way of adoption attorneys making large profits off of Indian children.
“The entire reason the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Indian Affairs released enhanced protections for tribes is because there is a full-blown crisis of Indian child seizures,” said Chase Iron Eyes, Chief Attorney of the Lakota People’s Law Office in South Dakota. “For the Goldwater Institute to claim that this law is no longer applicable in 2015 is patently absurd and more of a demonstration of how completely unfit these predators are to represent the interests of Native Americans.”
The Goldwater Institute, a libertarian outfit that advocates for smaller government, has never involved itself in American Indian tribal affairs and appears remarkably unsuited to pursue the current litigation, which they so erroneously claim is predicated on a concern for Native people’s civil rights.
In 1978, Barry Goldwater, the namesake of the institute, actually voted for the law the Institute seeks to eviscerate.
Former South Dakota U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk noted as much as he told Indian Country Media Today in a recently published article:
“I knew Barry Goldwater—he was my friend and often came to me for advice on most tribal matters,” Abourezk said. “I wish he were alive to see this travesty because he would never approve of it, and you can quote me on that, and make sure you emphasize the word ‘never.’”
While the Goldwater Institute, which filed in Arizona, is at best inadequate and misled, and at worst acting on behalf of vested interest, there is little doubt about the sinister intentions of the National Council for Adoption.
LPLP has uncovered evidence that shows that the National Council for Adoption is nothing more than a front organization for the group of AAAA attorneys seeking to clear the way for their profit-driven motives.
On Friday March 27, 2015, in a webinar titled “A Call to Action Regarding the BIA Guidelines”, AAAA President Laurie Goldheim spread the AAAA’s plan of attack against the updated 2015 Guidelines and forthcoming regulations.
“The Board of Trustees voted to include the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys as a plaintiff in a law suit being filed in federal district court challenging both the Guidelines and eventually the rule,” Goldheim said during the webinar. “We are exploring the opportunity for a political solution with our lobbyists and others to determine if there can be an impact/solution in Washington, D.C.”
Joining Ms. Goldheim on the National Council for Adoption Member Attorney list are six other AAAA member attorneys, including attorneys who are also mysteriously members of NICWA.
In addition to those member attorneys, the National Council for Adoptions Board of Directors includes two more AAAA members - Heidi Bruegel Cox, AAAA member since 1993 and William P. Rosen, Esq., AAAA member since 1995.
Another AAAA member, Mr. Philip McCarthy Jr, was named guardian ad litem for the Indian baby boy T.W. in the lawsuit filed in Virginia.
“If you have someone dedicated to systematically eroding ICWA also able to represent a young Indian child, what you have is a clear epitome of the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Daniel Sheehan. “Really, that is what this entire barrage of lawsuits is about. You have lawyers seeking out unwed Indian mothers. It’s not the other way around. These suits are completely manufactured so that these well-heeled lawyers who profit off of devastating Indian families can continue to line their bank accounts.”
Philip (Jay) McCarthy Jr. has been an AAAA member since 1998 and is the co-chair of the AAAA’s ICWA Committee. His law firm happens to located at the same address as one “Premier Adoption Agency” – another member organization of The National Council for Adoption.
Mr. McCarthy also filed the amicus brief on behalf of the AAAA in the Baby Veronica case. On that note, the Baby Veronica Case legal team for the adoptive couple included Attorney Lori McGill – her and husband are the Supreme Court Appellate (mentioned above) aka the “super lawyer” legal team in Washington D.C. hired by the NCFA.
“It is clear that by filing in two separate districts, where they are likely to get conflicting opinions and opposing decisions, that the intentions of these organizations is to have this case appear before the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Chase Iron Eyes. “Clearly encouraged by the wrong-headed decision relating to the Baby Veronica case, these lawyers are lining up to further erode an important law that is essential to Indian communities today more than ever.”
The Lakota People’s Law Project has begun to compile amicus briefs, which it plans to submit to the DOJ, and is actively encouraging the American Civil Liberties Union to become involved in the case.
“It is imperative that Indian Country take note and unify, as once again there are people looking to exploit our tribes and our people for financial gain,” said Bryan Brewer, the former president of the Pine Ridge Reservation. “Only in this case, these people are after our most sacred resource — our children. We as a people were not prepared for Baby Veronica, and it hurt us in the press and in the courtroom. This time we will be ready.”
Turtle Talk, an Indigenous Law and Policy Center Blog, published the following exhortation:
“This should be a call to arms for Indian Country. (The Goldwater Institute) is presumably a well-funded organization with a litigation, scholarly and public relations strategy. Indian country lost Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl because the adoption industry won the PR battle before Indian country even noticed. It’s time to act.”
The Lakota People’s Law Project has been partnering with tribes and leaders in South Dakota since 2005 from its offices in Rapid City, SD and Santa Cruz, Calif. LPLP’s activities have included funding and supporting Native experts to provide technical assistance to the tribes on family and child welfare issues. The project combines public interest law, investigation, research, education and organizing into a unique model for advocacy and social reform.
The Lakota People's Law Project is sponsored by the nonprofit Romero Institute based in Santa Cruz, Calif. The Institute is named after slain human rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Institute seeks to identify and dismantle structural sources of injustice and threats to the survival of our human family.