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Cherokee tribe alters child custody preference rules

Members of the Cherokee Nation Indian tribe have been concerned about the fate of tribal children, in some instances placed with non-members of the tribe. On one recent case, a Cherokee man thought that under the provisions of a federal law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act that he should have had a preference and protected right to have child custody of his daughter. Instead, she wound up being placed in the home of a non-Indian family and the courts upheld this.

In response, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council has adopted new rules giving greater priority to tribal members in child custody matters including the placement of children in foster care and adoption situations. Arizona residents following the development learned that fit biological parents who are members of the tribe are not to be given the first priority when Cherokee children must be placed in foster care or given up for adoption.

Following a biological parent, the next in line and preference would be the child's extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives) followed by other tribal members and then families from other Native American groups. Each year, around 1,200 to 1,600 Cherokee children are involved in various court proceedings concerning their custody and care. It is estimated that around 33 percent of them require a foster home environment or else placement for adoption. The Cherokee tribe hopes that its adoption of the new rules will be granted some measure of deference by the courts. The tribe is concerned about protecting the children and preserving their nation's culture and heritage.

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network, "Cherokee Strengthens Child Custody Laws, Giving Preference to Biological or Tribal Family" No author given, Jan. 15, 2014

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