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Thursday, October 27, 2011

State, Not Ojibwe Tribe Must Handle Adoption Placement

In a move that clarifies sovereignty boundaries, adoption proceedings for an Indian child whose parents' rights were terminated must take place within state courts, not tribal courts, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered Wednesday.

In the 4-2 decision, the court reversed two earlier orders granting the White Earth Band of Ojibwe permission to handle the child's adoption within its tribal court.

In its order, the Supreme Court reasoned that under the Indian Child Welfare Act, tribal authority is limited to foster care placement and termination of parental rights -- not adoptive placement.

The child in question, identified in court documents as L.S., is an enrolled member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. The mother is white, and the couple's five older children have all been removed from parental care or have had their parental rights terminated. According to documents, neither parent lived on the White Earth Reservation.

After parental rights were terminated, a Fillmore County judge granted the White Earth Band of Ojibwe permission to transfer pre-adoption proceedings to its tribal court under the rules of the Indian Child Welfare Act. A guardian ad litem for the child objected, but the Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in favor of the tribe.

In its reversal, the Supreme Court said there is no language in the federal law granting tribes jurisdiction over adoptive placement proceedings for children not living on the reservation. Because the language in the law was ambiguous, the court reasoned that adoptive proceedings should be excluded, not included.

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