Native Village of Tununak v. Alaska

Alaska Requests More Time to Consider Position in ICWA Dispute

“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.

Read the March 18 article at the website.

Related links:

March 18, 2015. “State Upholds Decision in Case of Native Child Adoption.” at the Newsminer website.

March 11, 2015. “Native Nonprofits Want State to Change on Adoption Case.” at the Alaska Public Media website.

March 9, 2015: “Alaska tribes want state to join rehearing request in ICWA case” at the website.


Indian Country Today Coverage of “Native Village of Tununak v. The State of Alaska”

Elise wanted her granddaughter, but after nearly six years in court fighting to assert her rights under federal law, time was not on her side. The Inupiaq elder, who has eight children and 26 grandchildren, had steadfastly refused to give up on a child whom she felt needed—and deserved—to be raised by her own family in Tununak, a Yup’ik village on the westernmost edge of the American continent.

Read the October 28 article about Elise’s struggle at the Indian Country Today Media Network website.

Though many points of the case are in dispute (if they were not, there would be not disagreement), in the interest of clarity and to offer our readers the state’s position as accurately as possible, we present here the unvarnished bulk of the rebuttal.

Read the December 4 follow-up article with the state’s rebuttal at the Indian Country Today Media Network website.

Alaska Supreme Court: Native Child can be Adopted by Non-Native Family


In a split decision, the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled against the village of Tununak, which was appealing a lower court’s decision that allowed an Alaska Native infant to be adopted by non-Native parents rather than giving custody to her extended biological family in the tiny Western Alaska community.

The Supreme Court’s ruling this month upholds an earlier Superior Court ruling that concerns about the baby girl’s well-being trumped legal preferences built into a federal law designed to keep children from being adopted away from their Native American communities when possible.

Citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a similar case, three of the Alaska Supreme Court justices said the lower court was correct in letting a non-Native couple in Anchorage adopt the girl, because an approved member of her biological family had not officially filed to adopt her. Two of the justices disagreed, saying that was not enough reason to override the Native preference.

Read more of the article at the News Miner website and a related article at the Reuters website.
Read a copy of the court decision at the National Indian Law Library website and copy of the briefs files in the case at the Turtle Talk blog.

Alaska Supreme Court’s latest ICWA Decision is a Blow to Alaska Native Family Rights

On September 12, 2014, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision that will effectively bar most Alaska Native families from asserting their rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and in doing so will increase the number of Native children severed from their families and culture.

In the Native Village of Tununak II v. the State of Alaska, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that in order to be considered as an adoptive placement option for children in State custody, family members and other Native families must file formal adoption petitions in State Superior Court. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the United States Supreme Court’s decision last year in the Baby Veronica case required this new rule.

Read the full press release at the Tanana Chiefs Conference website.

See related press release at the National Indian Child Welfare Association website.

Native Village of Tununak v. State, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children’s Services, September 12, 2014 (Alaska)

Synopsis Provided by Westlaw: After Indian child was found to be child in need of aid (CINA) and parents’ parental rights were terminated, Indian tribe sought to enforce Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) placement preferences, and child’s non-Indian foster parents petitioned for adoption. The Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Frank A. Pfiffner, J., granted foster parents’ adoption petition. Tribe appealed.

Holding Provided by Westlaw: The Supreme Court, Stowers, J., held that:
(1) ICWA’s preferences did not apply, and
(2) tribe’s disclosure of grandmother’s contact information did not amount to formal adoption request.

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