A woman was advocating for rights of tribal members and freedom from tribal government tyranny, while at the same time telling me that my husband and I were wrong to share our Christianity because the only way tribal members can be free from alcohol is through traditional religion.

So… while on the one hand she decried being dictated to and controlled by tribal government, she was attempting to dictate to and control other tribal members when it came to spirituality.

This is a very important point about freedom for tribal members. Some tribal governments do try to dictate that tribal members follow traditional religion, not any other.

When my husband, Roland, was testifying in Seattle against tribal jurisdiction, a representative of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) told us that reservations have a right to keep Christians off their property – and Christians have no right to speak to tribal members about their religion.

We asked “What if an elder has lived there all his life and becomes a Christian – and wants to talk to his grandchildren about it?” The NICWA representative answered that the grandfather had no right to speak to his grandchildren about it and would have to move.

This is not an unusual point of view within some tribal circles, nor was it unusual in many historical dictatorships where one religion was chosen for the entire country and all had to abide by it. This was why many settlers came to America and why the very first phrase of our constitutional amendments addresses freedom of religion.

Then comes the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is used by some tribal governments to dictate the religion Indian children must be raised in. Some times exposure to powwows and traditional Indian religion is mandated by courts and tribal governments as a condition of foster care or adoption. Other times, children are simply removed from Christian homes. This can happen even if the parents and grandparents placed the children in that home and want the children to be raised Christian.

Because ICWA is a federal law, the U.S. Congress is just as much to blame for this robbing of individual freedom and 1st amendment rights as tribal governments.

My husband and I knew who we wanted to be guardians of our kids if we were to die. We chose a man from our church. His race didn’t matter to us – his spirituality and heart were all that mattered. This was – and is – our constitutional and God-given right as parents to choose. Neither Congress nor any tribal government should be allowed to steal that from us.

NO ONE else in America is put underneath a law that dictates how you are supposed to spiritually raise your kids. The 1st amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”… but the ICWA Congress enacted comes dangerously close to doing just that.

Dying in Indian Country is available at: http://dyinginindiancountry.com

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