Agencies want re-examination of Native American adoption laws

PHOENIX -- State and federal agencies are asking a judge to throw out legal claims by several Arizonans that a 37-year old federal law harms and illegally discriminates against Native American children.

In court filings Friday, attorneys for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state Department of Child Safety federal agency acknowledged the Indian Child Welfare Act does require state courts when placing Indian children for adoption to give preference to a member of the child's extended family. That is followed by priority by other members of the child's tribe and, ultimately, other Indian families.

But they told U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake that Congress had a valid reason for approving the law.

"In particular, Congress found that there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children,' the lawyers for the federal government wrote.

And Dawn Williams, an assistant state attorney general, told Wake he should not disturb the law.

"The federal law was enacted to remediate generations of forced assimilation that wekaened to severed Indian children to their tribes,' she wrote. And she said the lawsuit cites only "nebulous speculative harm' to the children at issue in this case.

The lawyers said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that classifications based on tribal membership -- like those in this law -- "are political, not racial classifications.' And such distinctions, they argued, particularly for sovereign entities like Native American tribes are permitted.

The lawsuit, filed in July, contends the law illegally places the desire of tribes above the constitutional rights of children to be placed according to what is in their best interests.

The government lawyers also dispute other contentions by the plaintiffs, including that the children are being "forced to associate' with tribes which with they have no connection.

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