Montana Supreme Court ICWA Notice Case


¶28 In this case, CPS Lebrun’s testimony that an unidentified person orally confirmed that “they are not eligible, just they can only be descendent members” does not satisfy the Department’s ICWA burden. As a direct result of the Department’s failure to satisfy this burden—and likely assuming the Department had, prior to filing its Notice of No ICWA Involvement, followed up with formal inquiry with the Blackfeet Tribe as CPS Lebrun testified he would—the District Court proceeded to termination without conclusive determination from the Tribe. No documentation or testimony of an authorized tribal representative either dispelled or confirmed the District Court’s and Department’s belief that the children were not Indian children as defined by ICWA. Under the circumstances of this case, we hold the District Court erred by proceeding to terminate Mother’s rights to D.E. and A.E. without a conclusive tribal determination of their tribal membership status and eligibility.
¶29 Accordingly, we hold the District Court abused its discretion in terminating Mother’s parental rights without a conclusive tribal determination of tribal membership status and enrollment eligibility. We reverse and remand for an appropriate threshold determination of whether D.E. and A.E. are Indian children based on a conclusive tribal determination of tribal membership and eligibility in the Blackfeet Tribe. Further, if D.E. and A.E. are conclusively identified as Indian children subject to the requirements of ICWA, the District Court shall hold further proceedings as may be necessary to meet the evidentiary burdens of ICWA.