Raising their fists and marching Friday, students with the University of Minnesota's American Indian group issued a list of demands and voiced their concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court potentially overturning the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA.)
As they marched, the students chanted, "ICWA, don't take our kids away."
More than 50 students braved nearly freezing temperatures outside Coffman Memorial Union, holding signs and speaking about their worries for the future. The rally was held by the American Indian Student Cultural Center (AISCC) and Students for a Democratic Society.
"A part of me had hoped that it would never happen, but I feel like it was always in the back of my mind that it was a possibility to have ICWA overturned, especially after the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade," said student RickyMae Littlest Feather, 19, community outreach coordinator for AISCC.
The Supreme Court is reviewing the Brackeen v. Haaland case, which challenges the Indian Child Welfare Act. The act barred large numbers of Native children from being separated from their parents, extended families and communities by child welfare and adoption agencies.
Chad Everet Brackeen of Texas, along with three states, several other non-Native people and one tribal member wishing to adopt American Indian children sued the federal government, arguing that the statute violates the Constitution, according to Harvard University.
Sierra Charwood, 19, said the possibility of overturning the act is especially scary since her great-grandmother was forced to go to one of the boarding schools the federal government used to forcibly removed American Indian children from their homes in order to assimilate them into white culture. Because of that, Charwood lost the chance to learn more about her language and culture because it was not passed down, she said.
"It directly affected me that way — I don't have access to my language, my history, my roots," she said.
Charwood and other American Indian students fear that if the act were overturned, it could bring back boarding schools.
"Doing this would be taking multiple steps back, and with placing Native children in homes that aren't equipped for them and cannot better them," she said. "If this happens again, we're going to see a big hit to our community."
If ICWA is overturned, it could have ramifications affecting generations of Native children, Littlest Feather said.
"My biggest worries about ICWA being overturned is not only the loss of culture, but the harm that it can cause our kids, whether that be culturally, emotionally or physically," Littlest Feather said.
The groups are also calling on university officials to do the following::
- Have U President Joan Gabel condemn comments from Regent Steve Sviggum, who questioned whether the U's Morris campus was "too diverse."
- Make statistics publicly available about the Native American Promise Tuition Program, showing how many Native students it supports and how many Minnesota tribes are represented.
- Expand the eligibility requirements for the Native American Promise Tuition Program.
- Increase funding for the American Indian Studies department.
- And increase financial and nonfinancial support for Native community at the university.