As we’ve been reporting to you for some time, Big Oil’s most powerful attorneys are attacking the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) at the Supreme Court level. The legal effort is being led by Gibson Dunn, a firm notorious for helping fossil fuel goliaths evade environmental protections. With the Brackeen v. Haaland lawsuit, Gibson Dunn is attempting to eliminate tribes’ rights to keep Native kids in Native care. As you know, Lakota Law is fighting back against this frightening attack on Indigenous sovereignty.
We’re preparing an amicus curiae brief — more details on that below — for the Supreme Court’s consideration during its next session. We also recently had a strategy meeting in New York City with attorney Steven Donziger, another of Gibson Dunn’s targets. On behalf of Indigenous People in the Amazon, Donziger won a landmark judgment against Chevron for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest. Gibson Dunn then used every dirty trick in the book to turn the tables on him, and now he’s been under house arrest for years. We’ll work to connect Steven to resources that can help him find solutions to his legal problems.
In South America and North America alike, as Indigenous people, we’ve seen a blatant disregard for our lives played out for hundreds of years. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure ICWA is protected, right now. We know this law inside and out. Former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, who chairs Lakota Law’s Board of Advisors, was the principal author of ICWA, and a decade ago we were contacted by the Justice Department to propose implementation guidelines.
Our amicus brief will make three arguments designed to counter flawed positions taken by Gibson Dunn and the rest of the opposition’s legal team. First, our lawyers will explain that granting tribes the sovereign right to determine what happens to their children is not reverse racism. Second, we will say there is no violation of the U.S. Constitution or the Tenth Amendment when states are required to enforce federal law. And finally, federal, executive branch agencies — in this case, the Bureau of Indian Affairs — must be able to publish and enforce rules and regulations under their purview.
ICWA is a well-intentioned, well-written law with enforcement guidelines we know to be solid. Since going into effect more than 40 years ago, it has helped countless children remain with family, live healthy lives, and maintain a deep understanding of who they are and where they’re from. We can’t go back to the days of government-mandated mass cultural erasure. We must continue to stand together for the Earth and our future generations against the fossil fuel industry and its high-powered attorneys, whatever the costs. It’s up to all of us, and your friendship and care mean we can keep fighting for justice, every day.
Wopila tanka — thank you for supporting our legal work!
Chase Iron Eyes
Co-Director and Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project