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Fort Worth family takes challenge of federal adoption law all the way to the US Supreme Court

The Indian Child Welfare Act was established in 1978. Tribes say a North Texas family’s challenge could result in a loss of tribal sovereignty.

FORT WORTH, Texas — It was 2016 when Chad and Jennifer Brackeen first got the call that a baby boy needed a foster family.

They were thrilled that their Fort Worth home could be the safe place he deserved.

It took years to finalize their adoption of the little boy.

And now that difficult process is repeating itself with the boy’s younger biological sister.

The siblings are Native American.

Credit: ABC News Live Prime
Chad Brackeen holding his foster daughter.

The Brackeens blame a federal law in effect since 1978 for complicating the adoptions.

The Indian Child Welfare Act prioritizes who can adopt Native American foster children.

A child’s biological family is the first preference, followed by members of the child’s tribe, then members of any other tribe, followed by non-Native American families like the Brackeens.

The Brackeens argue prioritizing Native families over white families is discriminatory based on race.

And their case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in November.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act is quite a stout law to go up against,” Chad Brackeen told ABC News. “The justification to deviate from that law is a pretty high bar to overcome.”

Credit: ABC News Live Prime
Chad and Jennifer Brackeen

The state of Texas and several other states joined their case.

The Brackeens don’t know what the future holds for the Native American foster daughter they are hoping to adopt.

“In December we have a court hearing for the adoption of our son’s sister and if we lose she could be taken away,” Jennifer told ABC.

The ICWA was enacted after generations of forced removal of Native American children from their families.

Credit: ABC News Live Prime
Chuck Hoskin Jr. is Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation

“What was happening in the century before ICWA was just so detrimental to tribal communities,” Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, told ABC News.

He traveled to Washington when the case went before the Supreme Court and he argues that striking down any part of the law jeopardizes all aspects of tribal independence.

“If our sovereignty is eroded because of this case, we’re going to have a setback that will take generations to repair. If we can repair it at all,” Hoskin said.

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