The plight of Indigenous children recently made headlines, as Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a damning report calling the country's long-held policy of removing Native children from their families by force and placing them in state-funded residential schools "cultural genocide." According to the report, even before Canada was founded in 1867, churches were operating boarding schools for Indigenous children, and the last federally supported residential school didn't close until the late 1990s.
In the US, Native children were subjected to similar policies for more than a century. Article VII of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 stated, "In order to insure the civilization of the Indians entering into this treaty … they, therefore, pledge themselves to compel their children, male and female, between the ages of six and sixteen years, to attend school."
In response to the history of removing Native children from their families and cultures and forcing them into (often abusive) boarding schools, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed in 1978. The law established requirements for public and private child welfare agencies and state courts to adhere to when working with tribal children and families. However, the current manifestation of Native child removal is the child welfare system, and the ICWA is theoretically supposed to prevent that system from becoming a vehicle of systematic removal of children.
According to Assistant Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation Chrissi Nimmo, at its most basic level, "ICWA requires state courts and private agencies to always seek family reunification or family placement, involve tribes in decision-making of their children and protect parental rights - one of the most basic and fundamental rights in this country."
However, due to continued violations and noncompliance with the ICWA, in February of 2015, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) published new guidelines to strengthen the law, which will be codified at the end of the year.