The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that a lower juvenile court erred in failing to apply a federal law that seeks to prevent the removal of Native American children from their homes to a Nebraska case involving three Native American children.
The Supreme Court ruled that Lancaster County Juvenile Court Judge Linda Porter erred in deciding that the Indian Child Welfare Act did not apply to a case in which the state of Nebraska had taken custody of three Rosebud Sioux girls.
Porter had ruled that the federal law did not apply to the case because the children remained in their father’s home, despite being in the state’s custody. She had ruled that ICWA only applies in cases where Native American children are either removed from their parents’ home and placed in a foster home or when the state seeks to terminate Native parental rights.
Nebraska Appleseed, the Winnebago Tribe, the Ponca Tribe and the Santee Sioux Nation all filed amicus briefs on behalf of the children’s father. In May, the Nebraska Court of Appeals also ruled Porter had failed to apply ICWA in the case.
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Robert McEwen, staff attorney for Nebraska Appleseed, hailed Friday’s decision as a victory in his organization’s ongoing efforts to prevent the needless breakup of Native families.
“It is a good feeling that the courts are listening to the tribes,” he said.
The case, “In re Interest of Shayla H.,” began in January 2013 when the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services took custody of the three girls, whose last names aren’t provided in the Supreme Court ruling. Their father’s girlfriend had slapped one of the girls.
By March 2013, the state returned all three girls to their father’s home, where his girlfriend also resided.
However, the girls have since been removed from their father’s home amid allegations of sexual abuse by the father and one or more of his girlfriend’s sons, according to court records.
The Supreme Court conceded in its ruling Friday that its decision probably wouldn’t affect the case but decided the question of ICWA’s pertinence was still an important issue to resolve.