Watchlist: ‘This Land’

11.15.2021 Kamiah Koch Watchlist


By Kamiah Koch

Social media/digital journalist

This edition of Smoke Signals’ Watchlist recommendation is more of a listen-list.

“This Land” is a podcast series hosted by Rebecca Nagle of the Cherokee Nation and produced by Crooked Media. The podcast’s second season started releasing Aug. 23 and investigates the Indian Child Welfare Act, which recently landed on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest season of the podcast pieces together years of ICWA legal battles and concludes that the attacks on ICWA are a front for a bigger legal challenge against Tribal rights and sovereignty.

Episode one starts by addressing the history of ICWA, explaining its origins stem from residential school assimilation practices. In summary, to stop the continued systemic removal of Native children from their families and Tribe, ICWA was put in place in 1978.

“The Indian adoption project fits into this era of federal policy when the government was literally trying to get rid of Tribes,” Nagle says in the episode called “Behind the Curtain. “A tribe without children doesn’t have a future.”

Throughout the rest of the seven episodes, Nagle narrates and interviews lawyers, Tribal officials and Native Americans with firsthand experience in ICWA custody battles. She includes dialog from those involved in the case that snowballed the recent ICWA legal campaign, Brackeen v. Haaland.

Defenders of ICWA reiterate that the law protects Tribal culture and children by prioritizing finding foster homes within their family or Tribal community rather than placing them in a non-Native foster home, which was the common practice before 1978.

Challengers say ICWA unconstitutionally discriminates against non-Native families wanting to foster and adopt Native children. They emphasize that with claims that ICWA actually harms Native children by providing them with a smaller pool of foster homes. 

“This Land” supports that if the Supreme Court is to uphold the race-based discrimination claim, it would set a precedent that could be used to overturn other rights that Tribal sovereignty depends on.

What makes this podcast stand out in the reporting of ICWA is its investigation into the paper trail behind the Brackeen v. Haaland case and cases like it. In episode two, Nagle questions why Gibson Dunn, one of the most powerful corporate law firms in America known for representing billion dollar companies like Chevron and billionaires like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, quickly started representing the Brackeen family in Texas family court. More importantly, it exposes who is funding the firm.

Later episodes examine private adoption agencies’ hand in challenging ICWA and the programs that work to reconnect individuals to the Tribal culture they were adopted away from.

While we wait to see if the Supreme Court will address the Brackeen v. Haaland case, “This Land” has raised awareness about this issue with media attention and won a Webby Award in 2020.

ICWA a complex issue, but an important one for Indian Country. To listen to the podcast, look up “This Land” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.