VIDEO: NDN Collective Streams ICWA Rally on Steps of U.S. Supreme Court as Brackeen v. Haaland Oral Arguments are Heard

Brandy Calabaza · November 11, 2022

VIDEO: NDN Collective Streams ICWA Rally on Steps of U.S. Supreme Court as Brackeen v. Haaland Oral Arguments are Heard

The outcry of support for ICWA, Tribal sovereignty, and the intervening Tribes involved in this case brought relatives together from across Turtle Island. Hundreds  gathered together in prayer, song, and medicine for the conversation about to take place inside the doors of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, November 9.

On Wednesday, November 9, NDN Collective joined Indigenous advocates and allies outside of the Supreme Court as oral arguments in the federal lawsuit, Brackeen v. Haaland (2021) began. Known as the “Brackeen case,” Brackeen v. Haaland is challenging the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), an act passed in 1978 to ensure that Native American children are kept with Native families.

The plaintiffs in the case are three white adoptive couples and the State of Texas, and together, they claim that ICWA has caused them harm in their pursuit to adopt Native American children, while discriminating against them based on race. Should the decision of this case turn in favor of the plaintiffs, the impact on Tribal sovereignty could be devastating.

Participants hold signs as they wait for oral arguments to adjourn outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Photo by Steph Viera for NDN Collective.

The outcry of support for ICWA, Tribal sovereignty, and the intervening Tribes involved in this case brought relatives together from across Turtle Island. Before the hearing began on Wednesday, hundreds  gathered together in prayer, song, and medicine for the conversation taking place inside the doors of the Supreme Court.

As oral arguments began, participants waited outside of the Supreme Court joined by members from the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), who created a space outside of the venue for sign-making and to hear from members and attorneys from the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

The feeling of uncertainty was palpable as participants waited for oral arguments to conclude. Still remaining hopeful, many held up signs and smudged with sweetgrass while waiting for word to come.

Participants gather outside the Supreme Court to smudge as oral arguments begin. Photo by Steph Viera for NDN Collective.

Oral arguments in Brackeen v. Haaland (2021) streamed live on the Supreme court website and would last three and a half hours. In that time, the Supreme Court justices and attorneys would discuss more than just the Indian Child Welfare Act; they would also examine foundational statutes relating to the Indian-federal trust relationship, historical cases speaking to the application of sovereign rights, and provisions of ICWA. 

At the conclusion of the hearing, NDN Collective  covered the event live on the ground, capturing the moment that oral arguments ended. Among those interviewed by the NDN Collective team was Rebecca Nagle, Cherokee journalist, host, producer, and writer of the This Land Podcast. Rebecca was previously featured on another NDN Live episode discussing her podcast and the evolution of Brackeen v. Haaland (2021). Picking up from that conversation, Nagle provided insight into key takeaways from the hearing itself.

Rebecca Nagle, Host, Producer, and Writer of This Land Podcast is interviewed by Brandy Calabaza, NDN Collective Communications Associate, at the conclusion of oral arguments. Photo by Steph Viera for NDN Collective.

“There were Justices that were very clearly skeptical of Texas and the Individual plaintiffs’ arguments about Federal Indian Law,” said Nagle on the livestream. “So you saw Matthew McGill, the attorney for the individual plaintiffs, face some pretty hard questioning, but I think the big question is how many of the Justices are skeptical. So you definitely saw skepticism from four of the Justices.”

“There was also a lot of moments where the Justices displayed a real lack of understanding of how ICWA actually works and how the law actually functions,” Nagle continued “So there was more discussion in the courtroom about hypotheticals and ‘what about this situation,’ versus actually talking about how the law applies on the ground.”

Participants who waited outside all day hold up signs at the conclusion of oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court. Photo by Steph Viera for NDN Collective.

Intervening Tribal parties in Brackeen v. Haaland (2021) would take to a podium outside of the Supreme Court to share sentiments about what had occurred during the hearing, as well as to share key takeaways. Guest speakers included Tehassi Hill, Chairman of the Oneida Nation; Robert Martin, Tribal Chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians; and Fawn Sharp, member of the Quinault Nation and President of the National Congress of American Indians.

“The biggest takeaway for us is I think we are all realizing we’re at a sacred moment in time, and I’ve called it a sacred moment because we are that seventh generation and our ancestors long foretold a day of reckoning when this world wasn’t going to be sustainable,” said Fawn Sharp in the livestream interview with NDN Collective. “It is the Native people that are bringing people together with our common values that are undeniable, that we should be treated equally, and live as our creator intended.”

NDN Live host Brandy Calabaza, NDN Collective Communications Associate, interviews Fawn Sharp, President of NCAI, at the conclusion of oral arguments. Photo by Steph Viera for NDN Collective.

“I just know we are on the right side and that’s going to continue to solidify us because I think each and every one of us feel this and we want to find ways to come together,” said Sharp. “And we are coming together and we are going to continue to make advancements.”

The reflections after the hearing shared by Tribal leaders captured the determined energy that was present outside of the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning. Indigenous Peoples from many Nations gathered together in solidarity, directly confronting the threat being posed to the protection of Indigenous children. Should Justices of the Supreme Court decide to rule against the statutory arguments being made against the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), it could be catastrophic to federal statutes that impact Indigenous communities, including Indian gaming, healthcare, land, and water rights. As this case continues, Tribal communities and allies will unquestionably continue to stand in defense of the inherent rights held as the first peoples of this nation.

Participant, Kim, holds up her sign in front of the Supreme Court for visitors and traffic to see. Photo by Steph Viera for NDN Collective.

The Supreme Court adjourned this session of oral arguments with another hearing scheduled to continue this coming Monday, November 14. Oral Arguments will continue with a final decision to be determined in June 2023. NDN Collective will continue to follow this case as it progresses.

Watch the Full NDN Live with Coverage of the Brackeen v. Haaland Hearing in Washington, D.C. Here

Related Stories and Media:

Blog | NDN Collective Hosts ICWA Conversation with Rebecca Nagle Ahead of Major Supreme Court Case that Threatens Tribal Sovereignty

NDN Live | The Indian Child Welfare Act is Under Attack #ICWA

Atlantic | By Rebecca Nagle | The Supreme Court Case That Could Break Native American Sovereignty

The Nation | By Rebecca Nagle | The Story of Baby O – and the Case That Could Gut Native Sovereignty

Indian Country Today | Indigenous People Flock to DC for ICWA Hearing

Brandy Calabaza
by   Brandy Calabaza

Brandy Calabaza (She/Her), Communications Associate, is Jicarilla Apache and Kewa Pueblo from Northern New Mexico. Brandy supports the Communications and Narrative Team with all aspects of content creation, targeted outreach, copywriting, and overall management of internal communications systems. Throughout and following college, she continued to build on her professional development holding various positions in her Tribal community, including working with the Nations courts in the prosecutorial setting, teaching language classes to children, and working with and empowering Native Youth. Brandy holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Native American and Indigenous Studies from Fort Lewis College and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Indigenous Peoples Law from the University of Oklahoma. 

 

January 2023 Edition

Stay Informed. Take Action.

Subscribe to the NDN allies newsletter

Sign up to get our newsletter. Delivered once per month.

We care about the protection of your data and would never sell your email or share it with anyone without your permission.

Doubling Down for LANDBACK: Q & A with Nick Tilsen After 2.5 Year Legal Battle Comes to an End Posted 1 month ago
In this Q & A interview, Nick shares some of his reflections and big picture takeaways from the past two and a half years. Nick faced up to 17 years behind bars after a #LANDBACK protest in the Black Hills on July 3, 2020.
NDN Collective Announces Community Action Fund Grant Partners Posted 1 month ago
“NDN Collective is honored to invest in the self-determination and leadership of these organizations, collectives, organizers, and cultural practitioners. They are on the frontlines defending our communities from resource extraction, combating the polluters fueling climate change, and standing up for the human rights of Indigenous peoples."
NDN Collective Shares Program Intention of Collective Abundance Fund Ahead of Official Launch Posted 1 month ago
“While this financial commitment is unprecedented and significant, funding alone won’t solve the racial equity gap. Movement building must continue. Policy and advocacy work must continue to disrupt, dismantle, and shift the economic systems that don’t work for us. We can all play a part in that.”
All Charges Dismissed Against Nick Tilsen in 2.5 Year Long Case Posted 2 months ago
“My case held a mirror up to the so-called legal system, where prosecutors – fueled by white fragility and fear of Indigenous power – wasted years of state resources to intimidate, criminalize, and violate me. The fact that I’ve gone from facing 17 years in prison to all charges dismissed is not a coincidence or an act of justice – it’s evidence that the charges were bogus from the start."
NDN Collective Announces 2022 Community Self-Determination Grantee Partners Posted 2 months ago
“This cohort of grantee partners represents some of the most impactful work happening across Turtle Island—defending the air, land and water; developing Indigenous economies based on regenerative principles; and revitalizing our languages, cultures and ceremonies in ways that illuminate the path for the next generations.”
NDN Collective & Rewiring America Release IRA Memo for Tribes & Indigenous Communities Posted 2 months ago
Households could save $140,000 on energy bills over 25 years with efficient energy infrastructure – which would both help build Indigenous wealth, and help families divest from the volatile oil and gas markets. 
NDN Collective Statement on COP27 Negotiation Outcomes Posted 2 months ago
"We call on nation states to sever their relationships to the fossil fuels industry, fully commit to phasing out of fossil fuels, and utilize the core tenets of a Just Transition. Anything less is a failure to all of humanity.”
NDN Collective Responds to Mass Shooting of 2SLGBTQIA+ Relatives in Colorado Springs Posted 2 months ago
"As 2 spirit and queer individuals we long for spaces that are safe. We long for spaces that we can show up in and be our unapologetic queer selves without the fear of persecution. What happened to our relatives in Colorado is a violation of that sacred space and only triggers a more profound hyper vigilance of our spaces, our communities and of ourselves."
COP27: NDN Collective's Recap of Week One at the United Nations 27th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt Posted 2 months ago
"Our delegation has been participating in the Indigenous Peoples Caucus and the Local Communities Indigenous Peoples Platform, as well as tracking negotiations, meeting with government officials, and more."
COP27: NDN Collective Meets with White House Climate Advisor Posted 3 months ago
In their discussion with White House Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, NDN Collective, alongside frontline Indigenous and Black organizers touched on issue areas including IRA, mining, oil and gas leases.

United like never before, we rise together—arm in arm—to equip all Indigenous Peoples with the tools needed to become architects of our future. Through a holistic approach to infrastructure, funding, advocacy, movement building, and philanthropy we are fostering a world of justice and equity for all people and the planet.