18 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 37: 1 2017]
created equal. The preservation of tribes as political and cultural units is simply not adequate
justification for imposing legal presumptions that deprive children of their constitutional rights.
C. ICWA and Social Science
ICWA’s powerful presumptions are often defended on the grounds that Indian children
suffer unique psychological damage when they are placed in non-Indian households, 88 or even
that the feelings of attachment that Indian children experience is qualitatively different from
those that non-Indian children experience. 89 Support for such claims is dubious at best.
For instance, one well-known report entitled Split Feathers argued that Indian children
adopted into non-Indian homes face a higher risk of alcoholism, social disability, and other
psychological problems, and are likely to express feelings of alienation and a loss of identity. 90
Perhaps there are such cases, but Split Feathers cannot withstand scholarly scrutiny. 91 It was
confessedly unscientific, based on only twenty informal interviews of adults, and it drew
untenable causal conclusions based on correlation. 92 For instance, it did not seek to determine
whether the problems it identified might have resulted from abuses the subjects experienced
before they were removed from their birth families, or from the discrimination that Indians may
face in white society, as opposed to the fact of adoption itself. 93 It is impossible to know for sure
88 See, e.g., Catherine M. Brooks, The Indian Child Welfare Act in Nebraska: Fifteen Years, A Foundation for the
Future, 27 CREIGHTON L. REV. 661, 668 (1994).
89 See, e.g., B.J. Jones, Differing Concepts of “Permanency,” in FLETCHER, ET AL., supra note 51, at 131.
90 Carol Locust, Split Feathers: Adult American Indians Who Were Placed in Non-Indian Families as Children, 44
ONTARIO ASS’N OF CHILDREN’S AID SOC. J. 11 (2000), https://splitfeathers.blogspot.com/p/split-feathers-study-by-carol-locust.html.
91 The shortcomings of the Split Feathers study are detailed in Bonnie Cleaveland, Split Feather: An Untested
Construct (Mar. 2015), http://www.icwa.co/split-feather-scientific-analysis/