November 2nd, 2006
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If you subscribe to an adoption news service such as Adoption News Service of GRC Update, then you may have seen the recent article about legal action taken by the Navaho Nation to overturn the adoption of a minor child of a tribe member. The article appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. You can visit the article in its entirety at http://www.sltrib.com/ci_4551873?source=rss).

“The lawsuit highlights problems with Utah’s adoption-friendly laws, which critics have said overlook the rights of unwed fathers in deference to a mother’s right to determine what is in the best interests of her child. But at issue is whether LDS Family Services followed a federal law that grants tribes jurisdiction over children of American Indian descent.”

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The lawsuit filed by the tribe in U.S. District Court alleges “LDS Family Services violated requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act because the agency failed to contact the Navajo Nation before the baby was surrendered.”

According to Jerry “White Eagle” Taylor, chief of the Blue Ridge Band of Cherokee Nation, the suit should be a slam-dunk. “The Indian Child Welfare Act is a federal law, and federal law overrides all state laws, including adoption.”

He characterized the LDS placement as “just another way to do away with the true Native American race,” saying, “the child must be turned over to the father so she can be raised in her own culture.”

He points out that although the mother relinquished her parental rights, the father did no. “Federal law states that custody of the child must be given to the father, even if the child has been adopted,” he asserted.

Taylor cited the United States CODE: Title 25,1915. Placement of Indian Children, which states that if an Indian child can not be placed with one or both parents, or family member, or the tribe, band or group, then the child must be placed in an (Indian) foster home, (Indian) school or any Indian environment, even if adopted.

It will be interesting to see if the adoption withstands this challenge in federal court. But it would have been better if the agency had made a good faith effort to determine if the child was Native American before attempting a placement. LDS Family Services is the social welfare arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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