California Appeals Court Finds Court Rules about Indian Children Inconsistent with Legislative Intent

Decision (a rare published ICWA decision for CA).

The children were eligible for membership at Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The trial court ordered DHHS to help enroll the children as active efforts. DHHS appealed. The appellate court found that both ICWA and California state law limited the definition of Indian child (member, or bio child of a member and eligible), and if the children did not fit in that definition, the laws did not apply. As such, the rules were beyond the scope of the Judicial Counsel to pass.

The rules:

Rule 5.482(c) states, “If after notice has been provided as required by federal and state law a tribe responds indicating that the child is eligible for membership if certain steps are followed, the court must proceed as if the child is an Indian child and direct the appropriate individual or agency to provide active efforts under rule 5.484(c) to secure tribal membership for the child.”
Rule 5.484(c) states, “In addition to any other required findings to place an Indian child with someone other than a parent or Indian custodian, or to terminate parental rights, the court must find that active efforts have been made, in any proceeding listed in rule 5.480, to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs designed to prevent the breakup of the Indian family, and must find that these efforts were unsuccessful.
“(1) The court must consider whether active efforts were made in a manner consistent with the prevailing social and cultural conditions and way of life of the Indian child’s tribe.

(2) Efforts to provide services must include pursuit of any steps necessary to secure tribal membership for a child if the child is eligible for membership in a given tribe, as well as attempts to use the available resources of extended family members, the tribe, tribal and other Indian social service agencies, and individual Indian caregivers.”