An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Leading Northwest Indian lawyer surprised, relieved by Supreme Court decision

Brooke Pinkham is the director of the Center for Indian Law and Policy at the Seattle University School of Law.
Courtesy of Seattle University School of Law
Brooke Pinkham is the director of the Center for Indian Law and Policy at the Seattle University School of Law.

A top Northwest Indian lawyer says she’s glad to have finality about a major federal law pertaining to tribes and Native children.

Brooke Pinkham is the director of the Center for Indian Law and Policy at Seattle University. She’s also a Nez Perce tribal member.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legality of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which determines how Native children removed from their families will be resettled.

“It affirms tribal sovereignty and tribes’ rights to care for their own citizens in a way that is culturally appropriate," she said. "It’s big. We’re all celebrating out here in Indian country and beyond, Indian law practitioners. So it’s big in that way, that we can all sit down and take a big sigh of relief.”

Pinkham says the act had withstood a variety of early legal challenges and, after that, had been relative non-controversial for years. But she says the circumstances of the case and the current political climate opened up the chance for a reversal.

“The particular folks that went after this case (Chad and Jennifer Brackeen) have been trying to undo ICWA for quite some time and they found a sympathetic judge in Texas and, I would say, got pretty lucky to make their way to the Supreme Court," she said.

The Brackeen's challenge was upheld by a federal court in Texas and partially upheld by the federal appeals court in Texas. Pinkham says the appellate decision was complicated and convoluted.

"And so, both sides, meaning that the Brackeens and tribes, the Department of Justice, appealed the Fifth Circuit’s decision because there were lots of decisions that were all over the place that neither party agreed with and so it made its way to the Supreme Court," she said.

The high court issued a 7-2 decision. Pinkham hopes that will end the legal challenges.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.