Pascua Yaqui & state of Arizona agree on roles in foster children cases ahead of Supreme Court decision

Pascua Yaqui children taken into state custody in Arizona will continue to learn and grow up according to the tribe’s customs and traditions, and the tribe will still be able to intervene in custody proceedings such as adoptions and the termination of parental rights. The state and tribe signed a memo of understanding last week cementing that state-tribal partnership.

Read the full article in the Tucson Sentinel.

ICWA : The gold standard, golden nuggets of evidence from Arizona

 The data from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Pima County ICWA Courts show the success of ICWA and support the nickname ICWA has earned as the “gold standard.” There are golden nuggets of evidence found in Arizona, and it is imperative that the Supreme Court of the United States uphold ICWA as constitutional for the benefit of Indian families and tribes everywhere.

Read the full article in Arizona Attorney.

Pima County considering new court for American Indian child welfare cases

Pima County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Quigley said having an ICWA court would allow a legal team to specialize in these cases, much like with a mental health or drug court.

“Instead of having 14 judges deal with ICWA cases, we’d have one judge who would deal with it the same way, so everybody could have an expectation of how things would proceed,” Quigley said. “And I believe the tribes are also in support of having ICWA courts, as well.”

Read the full article or listen to the story at the Arizona Public Media website.

Records Show Petersen’s Firm Planned Native Adoption, Raising Legal Questions

Emails to the adoptive family from the director of Bright Star Adoptions, an adoption firm for which Petersen served as general counsel, suggest that concerns came up about the firm’s compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act following Petersen’s arrest.

Read the full article at the Phoenix New Times website.

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US Supreme Court Denies Review of Arizona Child Welfare Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied review of an Arizona case challenging a law that gives preference to American Indians in adoptions of Native children.
The order last week leaves in place a lower court ruling that dismissed a complaint from a Phoenix-based, right-leaning think tank.

Read the full article at the Navajo-Hopi Observer.

Read related article from the Navajo-Hopi Observer: “Indian Child Welfare Act Still Under Debate as Supreme Court Rebuffs Bid to Void the Act.”

Navajo Nation Wins Appeal in Indian Child Welfare Act Case

The Arizona Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing Thursday over the guardianship of a 6-year-old child who is subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The Navajo Nation appealed the case, The Navajo Nation v. Department of Child Safety et al., in October 2018 after the juvenile court failed to hear the testimony of a qualified expert witness as required by the ICWA in the child’s guardianship case.

Read the full article at the Arizona Public Media website.

Appeals court won’t rule on challenge to Indian Child Welfare Act

A federal appeals court has turned away a closely-watched conservative challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act.The Goldwater Institute sued the federal government and the state of Arizona, arguing that ICWA is racist because it only applies to “Indian” children. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to rule on the merits of the claim because a panel of judges noted that all of the four children involved in the case have been adopted.

Read the full article at the website.

Read related coverage at the Navajo-Hopi Observer website.

Who Can Adopt a Native Child?

Since the passage of ICWA in 1978, the law has been labeled the “gold standard” for child welfare laws — and not just for Indian children. Policies created under ICWA have been adopted by some states to ensure that children are only removed from their homes as a last resort. To honor the children and preserve the memory of what life was like before ICWA, Sandy White Hawk, a Sicangu Lakota citizen from South Dakota, hosts an annual powwow called Gathering of Our Children, where she welcomes people who were adopted or fostered out to non-Native families. She’s been able to uncover and share the stories of hundreds of children from all over the country who have been reunited with their Native families.

The Goldwater Institute, however, says that it is “fighting for equal protection of Indian children.” It cites a handful of cases where “active efforts” to reunify Indian children with abusive parents — rather than immediately placing with foster families or putting them up for adoption — traumatized the children. It points to cases like one in Oregon, in which the state terminated a couple’s parental rights to their son after they failed to follow through on court-ordered counseling and therapy. The institute has not provided any other details, including whether the boy, who is referred to simply as “L,” was abused or neglected.

Read the full article at the High Country News website.

U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Weigh Havasu (AZ) Lawyer’s Case

Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, parental rights can only be severed if it is found beyond a reasonable doubt that the children are at severe risk of harm. Testimony to this fact must come from expert witnesses, and under tribal law, it must be proven that an effort was made to keep children with their biological parents.

According to Rideout, application of the Indian Child Welfare Act in custody cases such as this would be detrimental to the children involved. Rideout this week filed an appeal of CRIT’s [Colorado River Indian Tribes] decision with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read the full article at the Havasu News website.

Court rejects challenge to law safeguarding Native children and families

Photo of girl playingMarch 17 – Yesterday, the federal District Court for the District of Arizona dismissed A.D. v. Washburn, a case brought by the Goldwater Institute challenging the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) application to Native children in the Arizona foster care system. This case was an attempt by a special interest group to dismantle the law that has protected thousands of Native children and families nationwide.

Read more at the Native American Rights Fund’s blog.

Read related news coverage at the website and Indian Country Media Network website.


Gila River Indian Community Weighs Options After Losing Indian Child Welfare Act Case

Although the proceeding only involved one child, it’s being closely watched because the non-Indian foster couple is being represented by the Goldwater Institute. The conservative-leaning organization, which is based in Arizona, has launched a public relations and legal campaign aimed at undermining and even invalidating the landmark Indian Child Welfare Act.

Read the full article at the website.

Gila River Indian Community v. Department of Child Safety, December 8, 2015 (Arizona)

Synopsis provided by Westlaw: Indian community moved to change child’s custody from foster home to aunt. After an evidentiary hearing, the Superior Court, Maricopa County, No. JD 510468, Shellie F. Smith, Judge Pro Tem, denied the motion.

Holdings provided by Westlaw: The Court of Appeals, Downie, J., held that:
[1] as a matter of first impression, clear and convincing standard of proof applied to determination of whether good cause existed to deviate from placement preferences set forth in Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), and
[2] remand was required to allow court to apply clear and convincing evidence standard.
Vacated and remanded

Read the full decision at the National Indian Law Library website.

State, Feds Defend Tribal Adoption Law

In court filings Friday, attorneys for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state Department of Child Safety federal agency acknowledged the Indian Child Welfare Act does require state courts when placing Indian children for adoption to give preference to a member of the child’s extended family. That is followed by priority by other members of the child’s tribe and, ultimately, other Indian families.

But they told U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake that Congress had a valid reason for approving the law.

Read the full article at the Casa Grande Dispatch website.

Attorney General’s Task Force on Native Children Exposed to Violence Holds Second of Four Meetings

About 75 people attended the all-day hearing at Talking Stick Resort near Scottsdale. It was the second of four across the country to secure testimony and information so the task force can generate policy recommendations for Attorney General Eric Holder.

In December, the committee was in Bismarck, N.D. The final two hearings are scheduled in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Anchorage, Alaska.

Read more about the task force meeting at the Casa Grande Dispatch website.

Transcript of Associate Attorney General Tony West’s Remarks at the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence Hearing (February 11, 2014)
Department of Justice seal


We’ve come together today – from communities throughout the southwest and from across the country – to address a serious and urgent problem: the problem of violence and its effect on American Indian and Alaska Native children.

We know that more than 60 percent of all children in the United States are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse, ranging from brief encounters as witnesses to serious violent episodes as victims.  Almost 40 percent are direct victims of 2 or more violent acts.

And for our children who are American Indian and Alaska Native, current research doesn’t give us a complete picture of its scope, but we know that they native are particularly vulnerable to encountering violence and trauma.  A 2008 report by the Indian Country Child Trauma Center calculated that native youth are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience trauma when compared with their non-native peers.

Read the full transcript at the Department of Justice website.

A Practical Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act

A Practical Guide to the Indian Child Welfare ActThe Guide is intended to answer questions and provide a comprehensive resource of information on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The online version at was created as a complement to the print version of the Guide, which was printed by the Native American Rights Fund in 2007.

While the topical sections are identical to the print version, the electronic copy has links to thousands of state and federal resources (cases, laws, etc.). In addition to the materials available in the original 360 page print edition, the online version includes more recent cases and a short list of recent ICWA news.