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Tribe seeks to nullify child's adoption


Tribe seeks to nullify child's adoption

By Nick Hytrek Journal staff writer

A California Indian tribe has filed a complaint in federal court seeking to nullify the adoption of an American Indian baby born in Sioux City.

The Tyme Maidu Tribe, Berry Creek Rancheria, of Oroville, Calif., claims in court documents that state and federal Indian child welfare laws were not followed from shortly after the baby girl's birth throughout her placement for adoption with an Arizona couple.

The tribe said it was not told of the infant's removal from her mother or her placement with the couple, even though it had notified a Sioux City lawyer involved in the adoption three months before the birth that tribal homes were available for placement of the child and that the tribe would not agree to placement in a nonpreferred home.

The tribe also said it was not notified of several hearings in Woodbury County Juvenile Court and an Arizona court.

"The Juvenile Court affirmatively denied the tribe its federal right to effectively participate in the termination proceedings," the tribe said in the complaint.

The federal Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, gives family members and American Indians preferred status in the placement of American Indian children in foster care or adoptive homes. Iowa's ICWA also requires tribes to be notified of all hearings in such cases.

The tribe said Sioux City attorney Maxine Buckmeier ignored its requests for a placement with the mother's extended family and made "little or no effort" to check for other possible placements with the tribe.

"Instead, Buckmeier placed (the girl) with the (adoptive couple), her personal clients, with the goal of the (couple) adopting (her)," the petition said.

Buckmeier did not return calls seeking comment.

The tribe is seeking a judge's order that the child be returned to the tribe's custody, that the Woodbury County Juvenile Court and Buckmeier comply with all Indian child welfare laws in future custody proceedings concerning the child and provide the tribe with its right to intervene in all hearings.

A Tyme Maidu Tribe representative declined comment.

"Due to the confidentiality in ICWA cases, I am unable to comment at this time," said Terilynn Steele, the tribe's Indian Child Welfare Program director.

According to the petition, filed in U.S. District Court in Sioux City, Shannon Edwards, an enrolled tribal member, gave birth to the girl June 6. Three days later, she signed a release of custody to Buckmeier. According to the ICWA, that consent was invalid because the law requires at least 10 days after birth before such consent can be given.

Buckmeier transferred possession of the child to an Arizona couple and on June 19 obtained a referral to place the child in Arizona.

The tribe said in the petition that it was not notified of any action taken in the case until it was served with a petition for termination of parental rights on June 26, after the child was placed in Arizona. The tribe said it was denied participation by telephone in a Nov. 1 hearing on that petition.

Edwards' parental rights were terminated Dec. 26. The tribe has appealed that ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court. The tribe has also appealed a juvenile court order overruling the tribe's motion to vacate the adoption. Both appeals are pending.

As the case was proceeding in Woodbury County, the adoptive couple filed an adoption petition on Oct. 5 in Maricopa County, Ariz. Five days later, Edwards appeared before a judge in Coconino County, Ariz., and consented to the adoption and waived the ICWA preferred placement preferences. The tribe said that waiver was obtained without notice to the tribe, and those proceedings took place in a court that had no jurisdiction in the case. The tribe also said that the couple did not notify the Arizona court of the pending case in Iowa.

On March 26, the petition said, the couple secured an order in Arizona designating them as the child's adoptive parents. The tribe contends they do not have that legal status because ICWA laws were not followed throughout the process.

Granting custody to the nonIndian couple, the petition said, would cost the girl eligibility for tribal enrollment, which would deprive her of an entitlement to a share of tribal profits, which is currently guaranteed at $3,000 per month plus quarterly bonuses, and eligibility for a private education, trust fund and money for athletics, books and supplies.

Nick Hytrek can be reached at 712-293-4226 or nickhytrek@siouxcityjournal.com.

2008 Jun 19