The ICWA Conference, hosted annually by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, began in 2011 as an effort to educate state judges, court staff and social workers on the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Tribal leaders, attorneys, judges, social workers and other professionals who deal with Native American children in a Youth Court setting attend the ICWA conference. Speakers each year include high-ranking leaders of tribal courts from across the country and advocates for Native American children.
The U.S. Congress in 1978 set requirements which apply to state child custody proceedings involving any Native American child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe. ICWA sets out federal requirements regarding removal and placement of Native American children in foster or adoptive homes. ICWA aims to preserve tribal culture and safeguard the rights of Native American children to their heritage.
An appeal of an adoption case from a Mississippi court became a landmark case in the interpretation and enforcement of ICWA. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyﬁeld was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989. The Holyﬁeld case involved the adoption of twins born to members of the Choctaw tribe. The parents agreed to the twins’ adoption by a non-Native American couple. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians successfully moved to vacate the adoption, asserting that the Tribal court had exclusive jurisdiction under ICWA. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.
The annual conference, conducted in one of the casino resorts operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, provides an opportunity for conference participants to experience tribal culture. The opening ceremony always includes the National Anthem sung in the Choctaw language. Conference breaks in the past have feature tribal drummers, a hoop dancer and displays of other traditional dances.