Alaska tribes want state to join rehearing request in ICWA case

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

Tribes in Alaska are asking the state to join a request for a rehearing 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 has asked the court to rehear the case. The Association of Village Council Presidents wants the new state administration -- led by Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott (D), who is Native -- to support the request.

"Prior to this decision, a formal petition to adopt a child in state court from a preferred placement was not required, and it creates huge obstacles for other rural Native families in Alaska," the AVCP said in a press release.

Barring a rehearing, the Native Village of Tununak can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the matter. 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. The Department of Justice is supporting a rehearing.

Get the Story:
AVCP urges reconsideration in key ICWA case (The Tundra Drums 3/5)

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

Related Stories
Alaska court allows adoption of Native child by non-Native couple (10/3)

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