The ACLU of Utah works to uplift Indigenous people, communities, and tribes through community-directed and integrated legal and advocacy work. We aim to support tribal communities -- and follow their lead -- as they work to uphold their sovereignty, dignity, and autonomy. We work to dismantle colonial systems of oppression that are found in all of our institutions, including schools, prisons and access to the ballot.

What is Indigenous justice?

Indigenous justice is the freedom and ability of Indigenous people to exercise their rights and sovereignty over themselves, their people, and their land. This includes the freedom to engage in traditional ways of governing, being, healing, and knowing while also learning and celebrating culture, language, tradition, and heritage by ceremonies and other practices.

Key Terms

Family Regulation System

A term coined by anti-violence advocate Emma Williams, and popularized by the Movement for Family Power and the ground-breaking scholar Dorothy Roberts, that refers to the “multi-billion-dollar government apparatus that regulates millions of marginalized people through intrusive investigations, monitoring and forcible removal of children from their homes to be placed in foster care, group homes and ‘therapeutic’ detention facilities” — most often due to allegations of neglect related to poverty which the system does nothing to address.

Federal Indian Boarding Schools

The forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes and communities to systematically destroy Indigenous cultures and communities, as an act of cultural genocide. Between 1869 and 1969, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were removed from their homes and families and placed in boarding schools operated by the federal government and the churches.

Indian Child Welfare Act


The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978 to address the history of forced separation and genocide of Native people, maintain and restore familial connections, and affirm tribal sovereignty. ICWA establishes requirements for state child custody proceedings involving an “Indian child,” defined as a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized Tribe, and requires measures intended to keep Native children in the care of their communities.

Indigenous Justice

The freedom and ability of Indigenous people to exercise their rights and sovereignty over themselves, their people, and their land; including the freedom to engage in traditional ways of governing, being, healing, and knowing; learning and celebrating their cultures, languages, traditions, and heritages by their ceremonies and other practices.


Settler-colonialism is an ongoing process upon which our entire society is structured, not an event in time or history. The goal of the settler-colonial society is to destroy and replace — eliminate the Indigenous people on the land they seek to settle and get rid of what was there before, rather than become part of it or merge with it. Settler-colonialism violently tears Indigenous people from the land and turns that land into property to be used as a resource and extracted from. That rupture from the land is ongoing violence against Indigenous people. Because all land that is now the United States was taken — often through violence — from Indigenous people, all of us who occupy that land today and benefit from her resources are engaged in settler-colonialism.

Tribal sovereignty

Tribal sovereignty refers to the right of Indian tribes to govern themselves and their lands. This sovereignty is inherent. Native Nations existed long before the creation of the United States.

What's At Stake

Indigenous peoples and their governments have suffered discrimination and injustice at the hands of the Utah and the United States since their foundings, yet contemporary civil rights discussions all too often ignore their rights. Indigenous communities are among the most impoverished in the nation, and the stigma of past discrimination regularly rears its head in the spheres of public health, education, and juvenile justice.

The ACLU has filed important class-action lawsuits challenging discrimination against Indigenous people in education, voting, and the child welfare system. In 1978, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law designed to protect Indigenous families from “abusive child welfare practices that resulted in the separation of large numbers of Indian children from their families and tribes through adoption or foster care placement.” In 2013 the ACLU used ICWA to challenge pervasive discrimination and the lack of due process afforded to Indigenous families in emergency child custody proceedings.

In 2022, the ACLU, along with 12 ACLU state affiliates (including the ACLU of Utah) and represented by Cooley LLP, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court urging the court to uphold the constitutionality of ICWA, which was at risk of being gutted by the court. In 2023, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Haaland v. Brackeen, delivering a landmark victory for tribal sovereignty, Native children, Native families, and the future of Native people. The ACLU is now urging states to take action and introduce or strengthen existing state-level ICWA protections. We are committed to continuing to defend tribal sovereignty and the rights of Indigenous peoples to be free from discrimination and governmental abuse of power.