Iowa Supreme Court upholds custody of children by tribal court

Des Moines, Iowa (AP) 2-08

The Iowa Supreme Court said the custody of two children whose parents had been in jail may be transferred to the tribal court of the Sac and Fox Tribe.

The state held a hearing on March of 2007, to terminate the parental rights of the children on the basis of drug use and parental failure to supervise. The parents at the hearing requested the custody of the children transferred to Meskwaki Family Services, which oversees transfers for the Sac and Fox Tribe.

The paternal grandmother was a member of the Sac and Fox Tribe, making their father a descendant. Although his children are not eligible for direct tribal membership, they are considered children of the tribal community and therefore may be considered an Indian child under the Iowa Indian Child Welfare Act.

The state contested the transfer but the supreme court concluded it was in the best interest of the children, identified in court documents only as N.V. and P.V., to transfer their case to the tribal court. The court supported the move “so it can preserve the unique values of their tribal culture and assist the children in establishing relationships with their tribal community.”

“The tribe’s interest in the future of an Indian child is not only significant, it is also an interest the Legislature sought to vigorously protect,” the court said.

The court said the Legislature made it clear that any objection to a tribal court transfer must be rejected if it is inconsistent with the intent of the Iowa Indian Child Welfare Act, which is designed to ensure children are “placed in homes that reflect the unique values of the child’s tribal culture...”

“Because the State failed to provide a legal basis for the district court to deny the transfer of this case to the tribal court, we affirm the district court’s transfer order,” the court concluded.