ICMP Applauds US Supreme Court Ruling on Native American Children

The Hague, 22 June 2023: The ruling delivered on 15 June by the United States Supreme Court by a vote of 7-2, that Native American children can continue to be protected under federal law against removal from tribal communities into foster care or adoption by non-Natives, has been welcomed by Native American Tribal leaders. Tribal Nations within the US saw this case as an attack on recognized Tribal Sovereignty and an existential threat to their Nations. In his consenting ruling, Justice Gorsuch extensively quotes historic and current reports on how the legacy of the education system, including boarding schools, imposed on Native communities has led directly to the ongoing need for legislation such as the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Commenting on the decision, International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) Director-General Kathryne Bomberger noted that “the US Supreme Court has reaffirmed the enduring relationship with Tribal Nations in America, including their constitutionally recognized Sovereignty as Nations, and the integrity of efforts to right egregious historical wrongs. The ICMP stands with Tribal Nations in the US and with Indigenous peoples around the world in seeking justice and accountability in upholding inherent, constitutional, and human rights.”

On the surface, the ruling upholds provisions in the 1978 Child Welfare Act designed to end the longstanding practice of taking Native American children from their own communities and placing them with non-Native families or in residential schools. However, the connections between Tribal Sovereignty, the legacy of the Indian Boarding Schools where it is estimated that tens of thousands of children died while being forced to attend the Boarding Schools, and the current state of Native Child Welfare in the US cannot be overstated.  Many of the remaining missing children were likely buried in unmarked graves, which must be investigated.

The same practice was applied in Canada, where at least 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children were removed from their families and forced to attend one of approximately 140 Indian Residential Schools (IRS) across the country. IRS students suffered physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. Thousands died while attending these schools and were often buried in unofficial cemeteries or unmarked burial sites with their identities unknown. At the initiative of First Nations in Canada, the ICMP is engaged to facilitate and support a First Nations’ led and IRS Survivor-centered process for gathering input from all stakeholders on appropriate next steps for implementing Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action 72-76.  The engagement is undertaken within the context of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and with respect for Indigenous sovereignty within Canada.


About ICMP

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so.