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North Dakota governor signs law protecting tribal adoptions


North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum has signed a bill to protect tribal cultures by codifying federal law…

North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum has signed a bill to protect tribal cultures by turning the federal child welfare bill into state law, Burgum’s office announced Monday.

The federal Indian Child Welfare Act, enacted in 1978, favors Native American families in foster care and adoption procedures of Native children.

Also known by its acronym ICWA, it was created in response to the alarming rate at which Alaska Native American and Native children were being removed from their homes by public and private agencies.

Several other states — including Montana, Wyoming and Utah — have considered codifying the law this year as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to the federal law.

A handful of white families have argued that the law is based on race and unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. They also said it puts the interests of tribes above children. Lower courts are divided on the case.

The outcome could undermine federal law. Tribes also fear more widespread consequences for their ability to govern themselves if the judges rule against them.

Supporters of the law include Native American leaders who have long advocated for it as a way to preserve Native families and culture. Opponents include immigrant families who have tried to adopt Native American children in emotional lawsuits.

Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for the governor, said the new state law “ensures that these important protections for Native American children and families in North Dakota will remain in effect regardless of what happens to ICWA in the federal court system.”


Trisha Ahmed is on the Corps for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues. Follow Trisha Ahmed on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15.

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.