Anchorage, AK: 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 and in doing so will increase the number of Native children severed from their families and their culture.
In the Native Village of Tununak II v. the State of Alaska (Alaska Supreme Court No. 6954, September 12, 2014, http://www.courtrecords.alaska.gov/webdocs/opinions/ops/sp-6954.pdf), the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that in order to be considered as an adoptive placement option for children in the custody of the State, family members and other Native families must file formal adoption cases. The Court held that the United States Supreme Court’s decision last year in the Baby Veronica case required this new rule.
“AFN is deeply concerned with the decision from the Alaska Supreme Court,” Julie Kitka, AFN President. “This decision is a disservice to our children. The formal petition for adoption is a very complicated process that requires the assistance of a lawyer that the majority of Alaska Native families cannot easily afford.”
The Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling will have disastrous consequences for tribes and Native families. Family members may ask for placement, but no matter how many names of Native families’ tribes pass along to the Office of Children’s Services the court will not consider those family members as possible adoptive placements – unless they initiate an adoption case. The ICWA adoption process is already very complicated forcing families to hire an attorney.
“This court has placed an almost insurmountable burden on Alaska families trying to adopt Native children of their own tribe,” said Ana Hoffman, AFN Co-Chair. “Hiring an attorney and dealing with faraway courts is very, very difficult here in rural Alaska. I strongly urge the Alaska Supreme Court to reconsider its decision for the success of our Alaska Native children.”