ICWA Local Counsel Information Collection Survey

Here.

The number one request we get at the ICWA Appellate Project is for local counsel for either the tribe or an individual (Grandma, 98% of the time). These cases happen all over the country, and finding attorneys in, say, Massachusetts or Tennessee or West Virginia, can be difficult. In 2014-2015, Addie Smith at NICWA and I did one of these surveys that really needs updating and expansion (we collected fewer than 100 names), so here it is. I will compile the lists together and delete any duplicates.

So if you are someone who can help, fill this out. If you are someone who has come up to me at a conference asking HOW to help, fill it out. If you are a tribe that has regularly identified local counsel, see if they will fill this out to help other tribes. If you’re at a big firm, see if some of your non-Indian law colleagues in the states without federally recognized tribes would be willing to fill it out. If you read this and think, “oh, Kate knows I would help,” fill it out anyway, because I have limited brainspace! If you have old friends from law school who now practice in random places like, say, northern Ohio, ask THEM to fill it out. If you work at a family law clinic and have never taken ICWA cases, here is your chance to teach your students something new–fill it out! And related, If you took my ICWA class at MSU Law, FILL IT OUT.

The information we are collecting isn’t confidential, but we will only distribute it as needed for those who ask.

Here.

Caveat: yes, tribal representatives are supposed to be able to participate in ICWA cases regardless of jurisdiction. However, that can be highly dependent on local judges, and if they are denied, we often need an attorney to explain why that’s wrong. In addition, whenever possible, tribes should be represented by attorneys in state courts, and especially when the case is not going well. And if there is an appeal–well, then we really need attorneys.

Thank you all very much.

APSAC Advisor Issue on ICWA

The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children published an issue on ICWA.

Here.

Articles include:

Vandervort, The Indian Child Welfare Act: A Brief Overview to Contextualize Current Controversies

Fletcher & Fort: The Indian Child Welfare Act as the “Gold Standard”

Piper: The Indian Child Welfare Act: In the Best Interest of Children?

Piper: Response to Fletcher and Fort

Fletcher & Fort: Response to Piper

Washington Post on Brackeen v. Bernhardt [ICWA]

Here.

In the 40 years since Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act, the law has been criticized in legal challenges that have climbed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the ICWA, as the act is known, has always prevailed.

Now its constitutionality is being questioned again. On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit agreed to rehear a lawsuit filed by a non-Native American couple in Texas claiming the ICWA discriminates on the basis of race and infringes on states’ rights.

***

Kathryn Fort, a Michigan State law professor and one of the nation’s foremost ICWA experts, told The Washington Post she thinks there are more important battles to wage on behalf of children.

“Given that a federal judge this week fined Texas $50,000 a day until they fix their broken child welfare system,” Fort said, “it seems beyond the pale for them to try to continue to strike down a law that is designed to help children and families in that very system heal and reunify.”

Fifth Circuit Grants En Banc Review of Brackeen v. Bernhardt [ICWA]

Here

Tribal Intervenor Statement here:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 7, 2019

Contact: Tania Mercado tmercado@skdknick.com

Native American Tribes Continue to Stand with Indian Children and Families Following Court Decision to Rehear Fifth Circuit Case

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Martin, Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill and Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp issued the following statement in response to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to rehear a challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act en banc:

“We never want to go back to the days when Indian children were ripped away from their families and stripped of their heritage. We continue to believe that the Fifth Circuit decision affirming the constitutionality of ICWA was the right decision. While it is unfortunate that the attacks on this critical law continue, we are confident that the court will once again uphold the constitutionality of ICWA, as courts have repeatedly done over the past 40 years. ICWA provides a process for determining the best interests of Indian children in the adoption and foster care systems, which is why it is overwhelmingly supported across the political spectrum. We remain devoted in our efforts to defend ICWA because our number one priority remains fighting for the wellbeing, health and safety of children and families.”

In 2017, individual plaintiffs Chad and Jennifer Brackeen, a couple from Texas, along with the state attorneys general in Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and its now-former Secretary Ryan Zinke to challenge ICWA. The Morongo, Quinault, Oneida and Cherokee tribes intervened as defendants in the case Brackeen v. Bernhardt.

In October 2018, a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas struck down much of ICWA. Defendants appealed the lower court’s decision and asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the decision. Last December, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay requested by the defendants, putting a hold on the ruling. In March 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from plaintiffs and defendants in the Brackeen case.

On August 9, 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the Indian Child Welfare Act is constitutional and serves the best interests of children and families. On October 1, 2019, plaintiffs in Brackeen v. Bernhardt chose to continue their attacks on Indian children and tribal families and requested an en banc rehearing before the Fifth Circuit.

There is broad, bipartisan support against this misguided attack on a law that is crucial for protecting the well-being of Indian children and Indian sovereignty. A total of 21 attorneys general, representing a broad range of states, filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants, arguing that ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s authority to legislate in the field of Indian affairs and does not violate the Tenth Amendment or equal protection laws. The Trump administration has also reiterated its support for ICWA, tribal sovereignty and the safety of Indian children.

An additional 325 tribes, 57 tribal organizations, members of Congress, Indian law and constitutional law scholars, and 30 leading child welfare organizations have also filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the defendants.

For additional information on this case and the Indian Child Welfare Act please visit: http://www.ProtectIndianKids.com.

###

Difficult Case out of California [ICWA]

Here

The question of whether Mom could have her child back with his siblings came down to his best interest–which kept him in the guardianship, despite the mom’s sobriety, job, handling a child with cancer, and raising a number of children. The Tribe, fearful of losing contact with the child entirely if they picked a side in the case, supported the mom but also ended up not weighing in on the final decision, instead asking the court to order whoever had the child keep him in contact with the Tribe. But this conclusion from the court is simply heartbreaking. It is not clear the child is related to the guardians, and as such the court equates a biological parent to non-relative foster care in a troublesome way:

We recognize this case was a difficult one for the juvenile court, not least because it was forced to choose between two families, both of whom love minor very much and both of whom may have been able to provide a stable, loving home where he remains connected to his siblings, other relatives, and his tribe. We can only express our hope, as did the juvenile court, that these families can find a way to remain connected in the interest of allowing minor to be loved and cared for by as many people as possible. It is also a difficult case because mother demonstrated her commitment to regaining custody by complying with her case plan, maintaining her sobriety and full employment, and garnering the support of the Department and the Tribe to have minor returned to her care. *** On this record, we perceive no abuse of discretion in the juvenile court’s determination that mother failed to meet her burden to demonstrate return to mother’s custody would be in minor’s best interest.

And no, I don’t entirely understand why the court isn’t using much higher ICWA standards here.

ICWA Article in the Deseret News

Here

SALT LAKE CITY — Over the summer, Shari Pena’s 3-month-old foster son chuckled for the first time when his older sister sneezed, kicking off a new family tradition.

The Penas gathered to celebrate the giggle, a milestone in the child’s Navajo culture. They shared a chicken and rice dish in their West Valley home and took a pinch of salt from the baby’s palm, a gesture symbolizing his generosity.

As the federal law governing child welfare cases for Native American children has withstood recent legal challenges in Utah and in other states, the Penas are among those cheering the victories. The Indian Child Welfare Act sets special standards in the adoption and foster care proceedings and gives preference to Native American families — part of an effort by Congress to correct historical bias against them.

“It’s important that these kids stay in native homes,” Pena said. “We understand one another, our past and our ancestors.”

Pena, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, said certain aspects of Navajo culture mirror her own upbringing in Oklahoma, including a strong focus on family. For newer factors like the first laugh party, she seeks guidance from the child’s biological grandmother and his four foster siblings.

QEW Case out of the Colorado Court of Appeals [ICWA]

Here.

The question is whether the parent should have had attorney representation during the interview with the qualified expert witness. This is a really interesting question, especially given that in this case the mother was assigned her own Guardian ad Litem. The Court ultimately held that she did not have the right to representation during the interview and upheld the termination of parental rights.