Non-tribal relatives ask about their rights

March 29, 2007

My nephew married a young woman who is indian and they had a child together.  He was recently arrested for domestic violence on the wife and their child was taken into custody by the state.  The tribe has been notified and has made noises that they are intending to intervene and take jurisdiction of this case.  However, I don’t want to see the non-indian side of this child’s family left out.  What I need to know is can the father legally stop the jurisdiction from being moved to the tribal court where that particular court would be at a minimum a six hour drive one way to get there.  It would be a hardship on the father and other family members to participate in proceedings and visits.  What are my nephew’s rights?  What are rights of the non-indian family members?

UPDATE April 29, 2007

I am writing to tell you thank you for the information you provided a while back about a non-indian parents rights in the ICWA act.  Because of that it gave my nephew a reason to believe that a life with his son was possible outside the reservation.

However, as it turns out we didn’t need to know that information after all.  Turns out the tribe is not going to intervene in this case because my great-nephew does not meet qualifications to become a registered member of the tribe.  The only request the tribe made to the courts was that the baby be placed with relatives (indian heritage not required) and on that note my husband and I are going to apply for a foster care license until either the parents complete their case plan or they lose their rights.  If it comes down to them losing their rights then we will formally adopt him.

But on another note this information is good for me to know as I am a Court Appointed Special Advocate for kids (Guardian ad litem).  Knowing this helps proceed with the best interest of the kids.

UPDATE August 29, 2007

Currently the babies father is going to prison for his domestic violence.  The babies mother is in a mental instiution because she is having difficulties dealing with life.  My husband and I have formally moved to gain guardianship of the child instead of a foster care license.  I have talked with some relatives on the mothers side and told them that I believe this child should learn about his heritage and know his Indian relatives and they have agreed to support my husband and I at this time.

UPDATE November 29, 2007

Yes there is a new update.  We have since went to court and gained the guardianship of the baby.  (November 8 actually is when it happened) We have talked to a few social workers at the reservation and have since been told that the tribe does not intend to intervene in this case in any way because the baby does not meet qualifications to be a registered member of the tribe.  He has no tribal family members willing to take him in and since we are related to him they feel it is in his best interest to be with us.  To be perfectly honest I was terrified of the tribe and thought that would be my biggest battle but that hasn’t been the case they have been supportive of my husband and I all through.  The problem has been the local Health and Welfare agency not wanting to let it go.  However, that has been taken care of as well and the baby is adjusting to living with us all the time now.

“When this life is over, it won’t matter what car we drove, what house we lived in, or how much money we made. The only thing that will matter is that we made a difference in somebody else’s life.” – Sheri Rose Shepherd

UPDATE January 29, 2008

Lisa I just wanted to update you on our case.  We have had custody of our great nephew since November 8, 2007.  The tribe approved of the guardianship (permenant).  They have also told us that after a full year of the baby living with us if the parents have not gotten it together that they would approve of us adopting the little guy.  Either way he will be with us until his 18th birthday.  I have read the stories on the site and thank God every day that we are one of the lucky ones.  This all could have went a much worse path.  I think what happened with us is that I got a hold of some relatives of the mother (she’s the one that is Indian) and explained to them what was happening.  I also told them that it was important to me that this little guy keep family connections and learn traditions of his tribe.  A few of them actually went to bat for me with the tribe.  The tribe agreed to him being with us but we also had to agree to bring him to the reservation once in a while (every few years or so because we live so far away) and take him to Pow-Wow’s at a reservation that is only two hours away.  We also need to strive to make sure that he learns about his Indian heritage.  I have already taken steps in this way.  Right now the baby is growing into a toddler (he is 15 soon to be 16 months old) and is learning new things.  I read him stories from his tribe that I have found at night when he goes to bed.  I really truly believe that through Gods grace we were granted the wisdom of dealing with the tribe, the family and the department of human services and given this child to raise up.

Love Always,

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