Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Two tribes claimed to be a child’s tribe for purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA): The Native Village of Wales claimed the child was a tribal member; the Native Village of Chignik Lagoon claims that the child is “eligible for tribal membership.” After the superior court terminated the biological parents’ parental rights, Wales moved to transfer subsequent proceedings, including potential adoption, to its tribal court. Chignik Lagoon intervened in the child in need of aid (CINA) case, arguing that the child was not a member of Wales under Wales’s constitution and that transfer of further proceedings to the Wales tribal court was not authorized under ICWA. The superior court found that the child was a member of Wales and that Wales was the child’s tribe for ICWA purposes, and therefore granted the transfer of jurisdiction. Chignik Lagoon appealed. After review, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s determination that the child was a member of Wales and that Wales was appropriately designated as the child’s tribe for ICWA purposes. The Supreme Court also concluded that, given that ruling, Chignik Lagoon lacked standing to challenge the transfer of proceedings to the Wales tribal court. View "Native Village of Chignik Lagoon v. Alaska Dept. of Health & Soc. Svcs." on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska claimed the right under Revised Statute 2477 (RS 2477) to clear land and permit the use of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites within an alleged 100-foot right of way centered on a road on land belonging to an Alaska Native corporation. The Native corporation sued, arguing that its prior aboriginal title prevented the federal government from conveying a right of way to the State or, alternatively, if the right of way existed, that construction of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites exceeded its scope. After years of litigation and motion practice the superior court issued two partial summary judgment orders. It held as a matter of law that any preexisting aboriginal title did not disturb the State’s right of way over the land. It also concluded as a matter of law that the right of way was limited to ingress and egress. Because the superior court did not err when it granted the State’s motion regarding aboriginal title, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed that grant of partial summary judgment. But because the scope of a particular RS 2477 right of way was a question of fact, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's conclusion as a matter of law that the State’s right of way was limited to ingress and egress. View "Ahtna, Inc. v. Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, et al." on Justia Law

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As relevant here, a trial court has reason to know that a child is an Indian child when “[a]ny participant in the proceeding, officer of the court involved in the proceeding, Indian Tribe, Indian organization, or agency informs the court that it has discovered information indicating that the child is an Indian child.” In this dependency and neglect case, the juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights with respect to E.A.M. Mother appealed, complaining that the court had failed to comply with Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) by not ensuring that the petitioning party, the Denver Human Services Department (“the Department”), had provided notice of the proceeding to the tribes that she and other relatives had identified as part of E.A.M.’s heritage. The Department and the child’s guardian ad litem responded that the assertions of Indian heritage by Mother and other relatives had not given the juvenile court reason to know that the child was an Indian child. Rather, they maintained, such assertions had merely triggered the due diligence requirement in section 19-1-126(3), and here, the Department had exercised due diligence. A division of the court of appeals agreed with Mother, vacated the termination judgment, and remanded with directions to ensure compliance with ICWA’s notice requirements. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding that "mere assertions" of a child's Indian heritage, without more, were not enough to give a juvenile court "reason to know" that the child was an Indian child. Here, the juvenile court correctly found that it didn’t have reason to know that E.A.M. is an Indian child. Accordingly, it properly directed the Department to exercise due diligence in gathering additional information that would assist in determining whether there was reason to know that E.A.M. is an Indian child. View "Colorado in interest of E.A.M. v. D.R.M." on Justia Law

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N.G. (Mother) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights to her children, Ricky R. and Jayden R. Mother argued the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) failed to discharge its duty of initial inquiry under state law implementing the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). DPSS did not dispute that it failed to discharge its duty of initial inquiry, but it argued that the error was harmless. DPSS also moved to dismiss the appeal as moot on the basis of postjudgment evidence, and it asked the Court of Appeal to consider that evidence under several theories. After review, the Court concluded DPSS prejudicially erred by failing to comply with its duty of initial inquiry under ICWA-related state law. The Court also denied DPSS’s motion to dismiss the appeal and declined to consider the postjudgment evidence of ICWA inquiries conducted while this appeal was pending. To this end, the Court held the juvenile court should consider that evidence in the first instance and determine whether DPSS discharged its duties under ICWA and related state law. View "In re Ricky R." on Justia Law

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T.T. (Mother) challenged a juvenile court’s finding that the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) did not apply to the dependency proceedings concerning her son, Dominick D. She argued the juvenile court failed to ensure that San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) discharged its duty of initial inquiry into Dominick’s possible Indian ancestry under California Welfare & Institutions Code section 224.2(b). To this, the Court of Appeal agreed, but declined to address the parties’ arguments concerning harmlessness, because ICWA inquiry and notice errors did not warrant reversal of the juvenile court’s jurisdictional or dispositional findings and orders other than the finding that ICWA did not apply. The Court accordingly vacated that finding and remanded for compliance with ICWA and related California law, but otherwise affirmed. View "In re Dominick D." on Justia Law

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Petitioner-mother J.J. petitioned for extraordinary relief pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 8.452, seeking review of an order denying family reunification services and setting a permanency planning hearing under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. She argued the juvenile court improperly bypassed reunification services, and that real party in interest the San Joaquin County Human Services Agency (the Agency) failed to comply with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The Agency disputed both contentions. Because the order denying reunification services was not supported by sufficient evidence, the Court of Appeal granted the petition as to mother’s first contention. Because the ICWA issue was premature, the Court rejected mother’s second contention. View "J.J. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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S.A. (mother) appealed a juvenile court’s order terminating parental rights and ordering G.A. (minor) be placed for adoption. Mother contended the San Joaquin County Human Services Agency (Agency) and the juvenile court failed to comply with the inquiry requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) because the Agency did not contact extended family members to inquire about the ICWA and the juvenile court made no findings regarding agency compliance in that regard. Mother added that no express ICWA findings were made by the juvenile court during the course of the proceedings, compounding the error, and asked the Court of Appeal to remand the case for ICWA compliance. The Court of Appeal determined that while the juvenile court failed to make an ICWA finding, the error was harmless because the Agency satisfied its duty of inquiry, and there was no reason to believe the minor was an Indian child: "the parents consistently stated they had no reason to believe they had Native American ancestry and did not object to the Agency’s reports that consistently concluded they did not. No further duty to inquire was triggered in this case, as the court and Agency had no reason to believe that an Indian child was involved." From this the Court found no prejudice flowing from the Agency's failure to interview extended family members. The case was remanded for the juvenile court to formally enter its ICWA finding on the record. View "In re G.A." on Justia Law

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G.V. (Father) appealed a juvenile court’s judgment terminating his parental rights as to his newborn daughter (E.V.) and selecting adoption as the permanent plan. He argued the court and the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) failed to adequately inquire into the child’s Indian ancestry under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 SSA conceded there were two errors with respect to duties under ICWA, but they were harmless. Alternatively, SSA moved the Court of Appeal to receive additional new evidence (that was not previously presented to the juvenile court) that allegedly rendered the appeal moot, or at least demonstrated any inquiry errors as to ICWA had to be deemed harmless. The Court denied the motion, and found that under In re A.R., 77 Cal.App.5th 197 (2022), all cases where the ICWA inquiry rules were not followed mandated reversal. Judgment was conditionally reversed and the matter remanded for compliance with ICWA. View "In re E.V." on Justia Law

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This termination of parental rights case concerned the “active efforts” required under the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs to assist a parent in completing a court-ordered treatment plan. A division of the Colorado court of appeals reversed a juvenile court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parent-child legal relationship with her two Native American children, holding that the Denver Department of Human Services (“DHS”) did not engage in the “active efforts” required under ICWA to assist Mother in completing her court-ordered treatment plan because it did not offer Mother job training or employment assistance, even though Mother struggled to maintain sobriety and disappeared for several months. The Colorado Supreme Court held that “active efforts” was a heightened standard requiring a greater degree of engagement by agencies, and agencies must provide a parent with remedial services and resources to complete all of the parent’s treatment plan objectives. The Court was satisfied the record supported the juvenile court’s determination that DHS engaged in active efforts to provide Mother with services and programs to attempt to rehabilitate her and reunited the family. The appellate court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for that court to address Mother’s remaining appellate contentions. View "Colorado in interest of My.K.M. and Ma. K.M." on Justia Law

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In 1968, Congress recognized the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Indian tribe. In 1983, Texas renounced its trust responsibilities with respect to the Tribe and expressed opposition to any new federal legislation that did not permit the state to apply its gaming laws on tribal lands. Congress restored the Tribe’s federal trust status in the 1987 Restoration Act, “prohibiting” all “gaming activities which are prohibited by the laws of the State of Texas.” Congress then adopted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which permitted Tribes to offer class II games—like bingo—in states that “permi[t] such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization or entity,” 25 U.S.C. 2710(b)(1)(A). IGRA allowed Tribes to offer class III games—like blackjack and baccarat—only pursuant to negotiated tribal/state compacts. Texas refused to negotiate a compact regarding class III games. In 1994, the Fifth Circuit held that the Restoration Act superseded IGRA.In 2016, the Tribe began offering bingo, including “electronic bingo.” The Fifth Circuit upheld an injunction, shutting down all of the Tribe’s bingo operations.The Supreme Court vacated. The Restoration Act bans, on tribal lands, only those gaming activities also banned in Texas. Texas laws do not “forbid,” “prevent,” or “make impossible” bingo operations but allow the game according to rules concerning time, place, and manner. Texas’s bingo laws are regulatory, not prohibitory. When Congress adopted the Restoration Act, Supreme Court precedent held that California’s bingo laws—materially identical to Texas’s laws—were regulatory and that only “prohibitory” state gaming laws could be applied on the Indian lands in question, not state “regulatory” gaming laws. The Restoration Act provides that a gaming activity prohibited by Texas law is also prohibited on tribal land as a matter of federal law. Other gaming activities are subject to tribal regulation and must conform to IGRA. View "Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas" on Justia Law