Iowa Supreme Court Decision on Notice and Indian Child [ICWA]

Opinion here:


Court page with oral arguments here.

I have delayed in posting this one mostly because I found this one particularly difficult, but I’ve referenced it in multiple presentations, so here it is. In essence, the child is a Lakota child, but due to COVID and tribal citizenship requirements and enrollment delays, ICWA did not apply to their case.

Red Cloud [Oglala Sioux ICWA Director] testified that he first met Mother the day before the hearing. He testified that he had consulted with his supervisor and that it was absolutely the intention of the tribe to intervene in the proceeding. When the State pointed out that the motion to intervene contained a reference to a stranger who was not a party to the proceedings, Red Cloud apologized for the error.

Red Cloud testified that because of staff difficulties and COVID-19, there were two years’ worth of cases that were not followed up on by the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He testified that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which ordinarily signed off on tribal enrollments, had not done enrollments since March of 2020. When asked, however, whether Z.K. was “eligible for enrollment” in the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Red Cloud responded “Yes.”

On cross-examination, Red Cloud stated that it was hard to get enrollment certified because of the health issues of a BIA employee responsible for certification. Yet, Red Cloud testified that the tribe could determine whether somebody is a member or eligible for membership without certification by the BIA.


Red Cloud further stated that the Mother is at least half Native American regardless of whether she is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux or Oglala Sioux Tribe, and as a result, “there was no way that [the Court] can determine that [Z.K.] is not an Indian.” Red Cloud added, “[W]e need the time to figure this out.”

Obviously, that time didn’t happen and the Court found ICWA did not apply because the mother was not a citizen of Oglala. This is especially frustrating coming out of Iowa, which has an ICWA statute that attempted to define an “Indian child” as one that was recognized as such by her community. However, in 2007, the Iowa Supreme Court found that portion of the statute unconstitutional.