Alaska requests more time to consider position in ICWA dispute

A view of the Native Village of Tununak. Photo from Lower Kuskokwim School District

The state of Alaska is seeking more time to consider its stance in an Indian Child Welfare Act case.

In Native Village of Tununak v. Alaska, the Alaska Supreme Court held that ICWA did not apply to a proceeding involving a Native girl because no one from her biological family tried to adopt her. The girl's grandmother had repeatedly sought custody but had not filed a formal petition.

The Native Village of Tununak, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Department of Justice are calling for a rehearing in the case. The new leaders of the state's executive branch -- Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D), who is Native -- haven't decided whether to support the request but they are still studying the matter.

"The state has requested an additional 30-day extension because the administration needs additional time to determine its response to the issues raised in the petition and the amicus brief," Jacqueline Schaffer, an assistant attorney general with the Alaska Department of Law, told KNBA.

Barring a rehearing, the Native Village of Tununak can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Doing so poses a hurdle because the Alaska decision relied heavily on Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the 2013 case in which the justices held that ICWA did not apply because no one from a Native girl's biological "came forward" to adopt her.

"We now hold that because the United States Supreme Court’s decisions on issues of federal law bind state courts’ consideration of federal law issues — including the Indian Child Welfare Act — the decision in Baby Girl applies directly to the adoptive placement case on remand and to this adoption appeal," the Alaska decision stated. "We discern no material factual differences between the Baby Girl case and this case, so we are unable to distinguish the holding in Baby Girl."

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from the request for the rehearing in Native Village of Tununak v. Alaska.

Get the Story:
State requests time to review issues in Native adoption case (KNBA 3/17)

Alaska Supreme Court Decision:
Native Village of Tununak v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Servs (September 12, 2014)

Related Stories
Alaska tribes want state to join rehearing request in ICWA case (03/09)
Alaska court allows adoption of Native child by non-Native couple (10/3)

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