June 15, 2018


Communications & Public Affairs Office

Gila River Indian Community


SACATON, AZ. - Attorneys for the Gila River Indian Community appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 13 to defend the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and to again legally oppose the anti-tribe Goldwater Institute in a case captioned Carol Carter, et al., v. Kevin Washburn, et al..


The 15-minute oral argument, conducted in San Francisco, centered on Goldwater’s appeal of a federal judge’s dismissal of a proposed class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of provisions of ICWA. Defendants, including the Gila River Indian Community, which successfully intervened in the case, were successful in upending Goldwater’s ill-conceived challenge to ICWA, a 1978 act of Congress that has served to combat the pervasive problem of unwarranted removal of Indian children from their families, and to address a variety of harmful practices by state agencies in child welfare proceedings involving Native children.


“No matter what it takes, the Gila River Indian Community will continue to fight to protect Indian children and Indian families,” said Gila River Gov. Stephen R. Lewis, who attended the Wednesday hearing. “ICWA has worked for four decades to keep Indian families whole and to give Indian children the strongest possible bond with their loved ones and their culture. We will do everything we must to prevent Indian children from being torn away from their families and torn away from their culture.”


The appellate argument did not touch on the merits of ICWA. Instead, Goldwater’s appeal concerned whether the organization had sufficient legal standing to bring suit. In U.S. District Court, Judge Neil Wake – after giving Goldwater the opportunity to amend its complaint – ruled the complaint did not demonstrate that the plaintiffs suffered an injury due to ICWA. Thus, Wake ruled, Goldwater had no standing to bring the case.


The Gila River Indian Community has been joined in its efforts to protect ICWA by a number of tribal and national children’s rights groups, including: the Navajo Nation; the National Congress of American Indians; the Association on American Indian Affairs; the National Child Welfare Association; the National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds; the Annie E. Casey Foundation; and the Child Welfare League of America.