South Carolina Supreme Court returns adopted child to Cherokee father under ICWA

On July 26, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision returning a Cherokee girl to her father in Oklahoma two years after she was adopted by a non-Indian couple in South Carolina.  The court stated that despite the fact that the couple had shown they had established a loving home for the child, the Indian Child Welfare Act confers custodial preference to the child's Indian father.

Reuters reports that the girl's non-Indian mother made efforts to hide the father's Indian status, listing the child as Hispanic on Oklahoma State child removal papers.  The father sued to stop the adoption four months after the South Carolina couple took custody of his daughter. 

More information is available here.

Washington State Implements New Indian Child Welfare Act

The State of Washington has passed into law its own Indian Child Welfare Act, designed to better protect the rights and preserve the cultural heritage of the state’s Native American children who are not able to live with their biological parents.

In the preamble to the new Act, the state declares:

The legislature finds that the state is committed to protecting the essential tribal relations and best interests of Indian children by promoting practices designed to prevent out-of-home placement of Indian children that is inconsistent with the rights of the parents, the health, safety, or welfare of the children, or the interests of their tribe. Whenever out-of-home placement of an Indian child is necessary in a proceeding subject to the terms of the federal Indian child welfare act and in this chapter, the best interests of the Indian child may be served by placing the Indian child in accordance with the placement priorities expressed in this chapter. The legislature further finds that where placement away from the parent or Indian custodian is necessary for the child's safety, the state is committed to a placement that reflects and honors the unique values of the child's tribal culture and is best able to assist the Indian child in establishing, developing, and maintaining a political, cultural, social, and spiritual relationship with the child's tribe and tribal community.

The full text of Washington’s new ICWA can be accessed HERE.

Improving Native Child Welfare Services - Your Input Is Needed

The new National Child Welfare Resource Center for Tribes has joined the federal Children's Bureau Training and Technical Assistance (T/TA) Network to assure that Tribal child welfare systems have access to the free assistance provided by the T/TA Network. The NRC4Tribes invites your input in a national Tribal Child Welfare TA Needs Assessment survey, which will help improve the quality and accessibility of child welfare services for Native communities.

You can complete this needs assessment survey online HERE, or through the NRC4Tribes website:  Please note that the deadline to complete the NRC4Tribes TA Needs Assessment has been extended to September 7th.

We encourage you to submit your comments and forward this survey to anyone in your community who has an interest in child and family services for Native communities, including:

* Tribal leaders
* Tribal child welfare staff
* Tribal law enforcement personnel
* Tribal court personnel, health service agency staff
* Tribal community program staff
* Tribal families involved in the child welfare system
* Tribal foster parents, kinship providers, youth, community members,
* Anyone interested in Tribal child welfare services

For more information concerning the NRC4Tribes and/or the NRC4Tribes TA needs assessment, please see

This Week: Tribal Law Conference At Gonzaga University

This Thursday, March 18, 2010 Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington will be the site for a far-ranging conference on legal issues of importance to Tribal communities and their advocates. Hosted by the Indian Law Section of the Spokane County Bar Association, the conference features nationally-recognized experts in numerous areas of law that are critical to Tribes. The conference itinerary includes:

The Indian Child Welfare Act – Tribal and State Perspectives (Identifying an Indian Child; Tribal staffing of ICW cases; domicile; utilizing Indian Child Welfare experts)

Tribal Court Practice; Inter-Jurisdictional Issues Arising in Tribal Courts (Tribal Court practice overview; abstention, exhaustion, removal; inter-jurisdictional issues)

Labor and Employment Law Issues for Tribes (FMLA; ADA; Pension Protection Act; and Tribal Considerations in drafting Employee Policies and Procedures)

Issues Regarding Multi-Jurisdictional Regulatory Oversight

Ethical Issues Arising in Tribal and State Multi-Jurisdictional Practice of Law

Registration information is available HERE.

Faring Worse in Foster Care

Youth advocacy and policy experts recently announced a study that shows Native American children are not only three times more likely to be placed in the foster care system but also fare much worse than other children nationally. The phrase “fare worse” refers to reports that show that children of color are treated more poorly than white children in foster homes.

Advocates for these youth are hopeful that new legislative updates such as the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which Congress passed in 2008, will improve the current situation for Native children. This legislation is considered to be a groundbreaking reform in the foster care system because it provides federal funds to tribal governments so that more Native children can stay in their communities. Under the law, participating tribes are required to match funds if they enter into direct agreements with the federal government to perform child welfare services under the Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance program. But, according to reports, the law does not force tribes to end any ongoing tribal-state foster care agreements, and, tribal officials do not have to immediately establish their own child welfare system if they believe that the current structures of their agreements with states are working well for Native children. The National Indian Child Welfare Association is currently working on ways to empower tribes.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) is also calling on federal fiscal policy to better promote permanence and well-being for all kids in the child welfare system. According to AECF, in order for the federal government to make a meaningful difference in the child welfare system, it must take a leadership role in reducing racial disparities and require states to disaggregate by race all data on key child welfare performance indicators; set aggressive goals for ultimately eliminating racial disparities; and regularly publish a progress report keeping these goals in mind. Simultaneously, tribal officials are pushing for federal government to work more closely with tribes on foster care matters that directly affect Native youth.

Hopefully, all of these efforts combined will help reshape and restructure the foster care system so that Native children find loving homes and no longer have to fare worse in a system that currently is failing them.

Seattle Hosts Major Native American Child Welfare Seminar -- 13 November 2008

On November 13, 2008, the Seattle office of Foster Pepper PLLC played host to a unique and far-ranging seminar entitled “Advocacy For The Native American Child – Honoring The Spirit And Intent Of The Indian Child Welfare Act”. The day-long program provided a comprehensive overview of the legal issues and cultural impacts of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, and offered specific instruction on the legal representation of Native children in Tribal, state, and federal courts.

Seminar attendees received tremendous volume and depth of instruction from distinguished panel of legal and cultural experts from across the country. Keynote speaker Judge William A. Thorne Jr. of the Utah State Court of Appeals addressed the problems of disproportionality of Native American children in government dependency systems; University of Washington professors Lorraine Brave and Ron Whitener highlighted cultural and ethical considerations for representing Native children in the courts; a panel comprised of child advocates, foster parents, and foster care alumni discussed the practical realities of life for Native American children in the dependency system; and Justice Bobbe Bridge of the Center for Children & Youth Justice closed the program with an inspirational message on the importance of strong and capable advocacy for the rights and welfare of Native children.

In addition to the live presentations, the seminar unveiled the new Indian Child Welfare Act practitioner’s desk book and digital training guide, produced by Foster Pepper attorneys in partnership with King County CASA. These resources give attorneys and advocates practical tools and guidance for effective representation of Native American children in dependency actions. Podcasts and video links for the presentations, along with copies of the program materials and desk book resources, will be accessible via this website

(Presentations are in Adobe PDF format and require Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

(Audio files are in .mp3 format and require an Audio player or you can listen via iTunes.)

Listen to all the audio files and subscribe to the RSS feed.

(Video files are in .m4v format and require QuickTime.)

Watch all the video files and subscribe to the RSS feed.

Turtle Mountain Chippewa Enact Comprehensive Abortion Ban

On September 17, 2008, the Tribal Council of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians enacted a resolution outlawing abortion on the Tribe’s reservation. The resolution states in pertinent part:

…(A)bsolutely under no circumstances will abortions be performed and allowed within any private or public facility within the boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and other lands under the jurisdiction of the Tribe.

The governing body faithfully believes that life is sacred and begins at the moment of conception between a man and a woman and life to be protected at all levels affirming natural law and reasoning… pro-life is a universal issue of common sense, moral righteousness for the common good of life.

Located near Belcourt, North Dakota, the Tribe’s reservation covers over 140,000 acres and the Tribe has over 30,000 enrolled members. Besides the Turtle Mountain reservation, the resolution would affect the community of Trenton, on tribal trust land in northwestern North Dakota. The area has only one hospital and clinic: the Quentin N. Burdick Memorial Health Facility, which is run by Indian Health Services. In general, the IHS is required to follow federal law, and federal facilities are not subject to Tribal resolutions. Neither the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Indian Health Service has yet received or ratified the Turtle Mountain resolution.

You can find additional insight on the resolution via Indian Country Today.

Find more information regarding the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians

Pending Child Welfare Legislation Contains Landmark Tribal Provisions

On September 22, 2008 Congress passed The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (H.R. 6893). If signed into law by President Bush, this bill will create access to Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance program while maintaining tribal autonomy.

Under the legislation, Tribes will gain direct access to federal funds for foster care, adoption assistance, kinship guardianship placements and independent living. For each fiscal year beginning in 2009, $3 million has been set aside for technical assistance and for participating Tribes to create their own child welfare programs. There are also provisions for one-time startup grants for Tribes wishing to operate their own Title IV-E program.

The new bill would require Tribes to match funds if they enter into agreements with the federal government to perform services under Title IV-E, thereby requiring analysis by Tribes of the cost/benefit and long term economic feasibility of the programs. Officials with the National Indian Child Welfare Association helped structure the Tribal components of the bill, and leaders in both the Senate and the House focused on child welfare issues for Native American children throughout the legislative process.

Text of the bill and its legislative history may be accessed via govtrack.