June 26, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: ICWA Requires Notice to BIA in State with No Designated Tribal Agents

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of I.B.-R. on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Dependency and Neglect—Indian Child Welfare Act Notice—Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, J.S.R. is the father of one of the four children. He told the Weld County Department of Human Services (Department) that he had Cherokee heritage on his father’s side and his lineage descended from a tribe in Arkansas, but he did not know which tribe. The Department did not notify any tribe or the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) of the dependency and neglect proceeding. Following the filing of their motion to terminate parental rights, the Department sent notice of the termination proceedings to the three federally recognized Cherokee Tribes. Each responded that the child was not a member or eligible for membership. The Department also notified the BIA, but did not mention J.S.R.’s reported affiliation to an unknown tribe in Arkansas. No further inquiry was made and all three parents’ parental rights were terminated.

On appeal, J.S.R. contended that the trial court and the Department did not comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) after he asserted Native American heritage. He argued the Department failed to comply with the ICWA’s notice requirements because it did not send notice to any tribes in Arkansas. ICWA-implementing legislation in Colorado requires that in dependency and neglect proceedings, the petitioning party must make continuing inquiries to determine whether the child is an Indian child. When there is reason to know or believe that a child involved in a child custody proceeding is an Indian child, the petitioning party must send notice of the proceeding to the potentially concerned tribe or tribes. The BIA publishes a list of designated tribal agents for service of ICWA notice in the Federal Register each year. There are no federally recognized tribes with designated tribal agents in Arkansas. If the identity or location of a tribe cannot be determined, notice must be given to the BIA. While the ICWA does not require courts or departments of human services to find tribal connections from vague information, it was the BIA’s burden to research whether there could be a tribal connection in Arkansas. However, the notice in this case did not alert the BIA that J.S.R. had reported a tribal connection to Arkansas, so it had no reason to conduct such an investigation.

The case was remanded with detailed directions to proceed with ICWA compliance.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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