The Indian Law Clinic represented the Chickasaw Nation in this case.
In their petitions, the parties asked us to address whether (1) ICWA requires
a district court to hold an enrollment hearing in circumstances like those present
here as a prerequisite to the termination of parental rights; (2) a district court can
order the Department to enroll children over a parent’s objection; and (3) the
division below erred in reversing the district court’s judgment rather than
ordering a limited remand.
All of the parties before us, and the Nation itself, agree that the division
erred in requiring an enrollment hearing. Because we perceive no statutory basis
for such a hearing, and because such a hearing conflicts with the Nation’s exclusive
right to determine who is an enrolled citizen, we agree that the division erred in
requiring such a hearing.
With respect to the second issue presented, we note that neither parent
objected to the children’s enrollment. Accordingly, the issue as presented in the
petition for certiorari is not properly before us. In their briefs, however, the parties
appear to construe the question presented more broadly, namely, as asking us to
decide whether the Department has an obligation to assist children who are
eligible for enrollment in becoming enrolled citizens of a tribal nation. Although
the issue is an important one and may call for legislative action, we conclude that
under current law, the Department has no such obligation. In certain
circumstances, however, it might well be the better practice for the Department to
advise on and perhaps assist with the enrollment process.