The UUA Applauds Supreme Court Ruling Upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act: Decision will help to maintain sovereignty of Indigenous communities

Boston, Mass. (June 15, 2023) – The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is applauding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Haaland vs Brackeen case that upholds the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), legislation passed in 1978 that prioritized the rights of Indigenous families and communities, and maintains the sovereignty of Native American and Indigenous tribes.

“Unitarian Universalists have long supported the efforts by Native and Indigenous peoples to maintain their culture and sovereignty, and we continue to do so today,” said the Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray, the UUA’s president. “ICWA has been successful in helping to prevent the further erosion of the culture of Indigenous communities. We celebrate this ruling, which preserves this important piece of legislation.”

The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) works to eliminate child abuse and neglect by strengthening families, tribes, and the laws that protect them.


Haaland vs. Brackeen, which was argued in front of the Supreme Court in November 2022, addresses the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act. That act “sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe,” according to the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA). NICWA also states that “research found that 25 to 35 percent of all Native children were being removed; of these, 85 percent were placed outside of their families and communities—even when fit and willing relatives were available.” As such, the Supreme Court’s ruling helps preserve the sovereignty of Indigenous tribes and the rights of Native American children and their families.

As part of their values and Principles, Unitarian Universalists (UUs) affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person and justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Addressing the injustices that Native American and Indigenous tribes have faced and supporting the concerns of their communities is a part of the UUA’s justice priorities. In 1998, UUs supported an Action of Immediate Witness that called for fair treatment of Indigenous peoples and for UUs “to urge the United States government to begin a program of reconciliation and renewal.” At the 2012 annual meeting of UUs, General Assembly, delegates voted to repudiate the “Doctrine of Discovery” and urged “Unitarian Universalism to expose the historical reality and impact of the Doctrine of Discovery and eliminate its presence in the contemporary policies, programs, theologies, and structures of Unitarian Universalism.” ICWA is integral to dismantling that racist legacy.

“The U.S. government has a long history of policies separating Indigenous children from their culture, language, and religion. ICWA is an important tool in addressing historical inequities of Native American communities,” said Professor Sherri Thomas, Associate Dean of Institutional Culture & Equity and Assistant Library Director at the University of New Mexico School of Law. “The strength of ICWA has slowly eroded over the last few decades—we need faith communities to support the rights of Tribes and Indigenous families to determine and protect our futures by keeping our children connected to their communities and Indigenous knowledge.” Professor Thomas, a member of UU World’s editorial advisory committee, is an expert on Federal Indian, Tribal and Copyright Law. She is Black and American Indian—she grew up on the Dine (Navajo) Reservation and is an enrolled Tiwa (Taos Pueblo) member.

About the UUA

The UUA is the central organization for the Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious movement in the United States. Our faith is diverse and inclusive and the UUA’s 1000+ member congregations are committed to Seven Principles that hold closely the worth and dignity of each person as sacred, the need for justice and compassion, the right of conscience, and respect for the interdependent nature of all existence.

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