HEADLINE: TESTIMONY June 18, 1997 JOHN MCCAIN SENATOR SENATE INDIAN AFFAIRS INDIAN CHILD WELFARE JOINT HEARING
STATEMENT OF SENATOR JOHN McCAIN AT A HEARING ON AMENDMENTS TO THE INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT OF 1978
WASHINGTON, D.C."Thank you, Chairman Campbell and Chairman Young, for convening this hearing on two bills, S.569 and H.R.1082 to amend the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). In the Senate, this bill has five cosponsors... myself, and Senators Campbell, Domenici, Dorgan, and Wellstone. "As we.found last year, the issue of Indian child welfare stirs the deepest emotions. Nothing is more sacred than children. And while developing common ground is always difficult, it is especially difficult on such a deeply personal issue. The amendments to ICWA contained in this bill have been crafted to resolve many of the differences between Indian tribes and advocates of adoption
ICWA was enacted in 1978 in response to growing concern over the consequences to Indian children, families and tribes of the separation of large numbers of Indian children from their families and tribes through adoption or foster care placements by the State courts. In response, Congress protected both the best interest of Indian children and the interest of Indian tribes in the welfare of their children, by carefully crafting ICWA to make use of the roles traditionally played by Indian tribes and families in the welfare of their children through a unique jurisdictional framework. "The bills we are discussing today will amend the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 to better serve the best interests of Indian children without trampling on tribal sovereignty and without eroding fundamental principles of Federal Indian law. "As with all compromises, I am sure each side would prefer language that is better for them. I am told that many Indian tribes would rather not have any amendments at all, and that many in the adoption community would rather have no ICWA. But on behalf of the Indian children and their parents, both biological and adoptive, I want to extend my personal thanks to persons on both sides of this debate who have led the way to a compromise in which both sides, and most importantly, Indian children, are the winners. "More than two years ago, several high-profile adoption cases captured national attention because they involved Indian children caught in protracted legal disputes under ICWA. Adoption advocates believed these cases would provide political support for amendments they had long sought to the Act. Indian tribes felt like they were under siege, battling distorted news stories about what the ICWA does and does not do while at the same time having to fend off overly broad amendments to lCWA." "It is remarkable that a few visionaries on both sides ventured away from the battle lines to begin to talk with each other about what common ground might exist. These talks began a long process of negotiation over possible compromise amendments to ICWA. Over time, the protagonists began to see ways in which some of each side's objectives could be accomplished through common agreement. "There is no doubt in my mind that, in the case of an Indian child, there are special interests that must be taken into account during an adoption placement process. But these interests, as provided for in ICWA, must serve the "best interests" of the Indian child. And those best interests are best served by certainty, speed, and stability in making adoptive placements with the participation of Indian tribes. "I firmly believe this bill better enables us to serve the best interests of all in ways that preserve fundamental principles of tribal sovereignty by recognizing and preserving the appropriate role of tribal governments in the lives of Indian children. We've delayed too long and I intend to pursue enactment of this bill as soon as possible."