indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

Printer friendly version
Appeals court won't invalidate Indian child adoption
TUESDAY, JUNE 10, 2003

Two tribes seeking to invalidate the adoption of an Indian child were rejected by a federal appeals court on Monday.

The Navajo Nation and the Yakama Nation sued to stop the adoption of a baby, now 12, of Navajo and Yakama heritage. Citing the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the tribes asserted jurisdiction over adoption proceedings.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a unanimous ruling, rejected the tribes' claims. A three-judge panel said the child, although conceived on the Yakama Reservation in Washington, was not "domiciled" on tribal land, and that the birth parents didn't want their Indian heritage known.

"[I]n this case, the birth parents were domiciled off-reservation and voluntarily repudiated application of ICWA and tribal court jurisdiction," wrote Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson in the 11-page decision.

According to court documents, Theodora and David Becenti, while living on the Yakama Reservation, conceived a child. Theodora Becenti is a member of the Yakama Nation while David Becenti is a member of the Navajo Nation.

Theodora Becenti kept her pregnancy from her husband and her parents, according to court documents. She informed David Becenti in her eighth month of pregnancy, and the couple moved off the reservation "in part to conceal the pregnancy and in part to attend community college," U.S. District Judge Edward F. Shea wrote in a March 1999 decision.

While living off the reservation, the Becentis arranged for an adoption. They agreed to sever all parental rights and reject tribal court jurisdiction over the proceedings. No notice was given to the Navajo Nation, the Yakama Nation or Theodora Becenti's parents. A state court approved the adoption.

But a few months after the child, identified in court records as K.H., was born, the Becentis moved back to the Yakama Reservation. Theodora Becenti finally told her parents, setting in motion attempts by the Navajo and Yakama tribes to invalidate the state court proceedings.

Under ICWA, tribes have exclusive jurisdiction over adoption proceedings but only in cases involving children "domiciled" on the reservation. Otherwise, tribes share jurisdiction with state courts.

A child doesn't have to be born on a reservation to be considered "domiciled." A Supreme Court precedent involving the Mississippi Band of Choctaws ruled that the domicile of the birth parents must be taken into account, otherwise "the tribe's exclusive jurisdiction [would be defeated] by the simple expedient of giving birth and placing the child for adoption off the reservation."

The Becenti's case would appear to fit that holding. But the 9th Circuit said the couple took several steps to declare their off-reservation status. The state court adoption, therefore, was ruled valid.

"The state court considered the provisions of ICWA and made a reasoned determination that the Becentis' off-reservation domicile conferred concurrent jurisdiction upon the state court," Rawlinson wrote.

James and Gayle Norris, a Washington couple, have kept custody of K.H. since birth.

The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978 to correct for what Congress called an "alarmingly high percentage" of Indian children being placed for adoption and foster care in non-Indian homes and institutions. In the decades preceding the law, the adoption rate for Indian children was 8.4 times greater than that of non-Indian children, according to the American Indian Child Resource Center.

Get the Decision:
Navajo Nation v. Norris (June 9, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Navajo Nation - http://www.navajo.org
Yakama Nation - http://www.yakamanation.com
National Indian Child Welfare Association - http://www.nicwa.org

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Guilty verdict in death of Lower Brule boy (4/17)
Native Sun News: Paper brings home four first place awards (4/17)
Panel to look into death of pregnant Indian woman in Mexico (4/17)
Opinion: Poarch Creeks qualify for Class III gaming in Florida (4/17)
Native Sun News: Little Shell Tribe gets closer to recognition (4/16)
Native Sun News: Pine Ridge fighter prepares for next match (4/16)
Letter from Cobell attorneys on second settlement payment (4/16)
Cobell settlement administrator responds to payment delay (4/16)
Secretary Jewell to deliver commencement address at SIPI (4/16)
First member of Pascua Yaqui Tribe signs to play basketball (4/16)
Navajo Code Talker Samuel Smith passes away at age of 88 (4/16)
Dean Chavers: Indian journalism owes big debt to Tim Giago (4/16)
Nicholet Deschine: KTNN accepts 'hush money' for racial slur (4/16)
Jack Duran: Grindstone Rancheria finally gets a seat at table (4/16)
Dry Creek Rancheria to hold disenrollment hearings this week (4/16)
Hate group plans to protest at Alaska Native Heritage Center (4/16)
Colorado House passes bill to expand Indian tuition program (4/16)
Ute Tribe signs five-year agreement with University of Utah (4/16)
Mississippi Choctaws on track to open health facility in 2015 (4/16)
Judges from Turtle Mountain Band threatened with removal (4/16)
City in New York to drop legal battles against Oneida Nation (4/16)
Quinault Nation to reopen lake on reservation to non-Indians (4/16)
Virginia tribes question interpretation of treaty fishing rights (4/16)
Lawsuit claims remains were removed for Jamul Band casino (4/16)
Mescalero Apache Tribe completes refinancing of casino debt (4/16)
Cherokee Nation Council passes gaming regulation measure (4/16)
Mashantucket Tribe working on casino deal in Massachusetts (4/16)
Opinion: Another futile lawsuit against Poarch Creek casinos (4/16)
Native Sun News: Tribes benefit from $5.15B uranium cleanup (4/15)
Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe marks return of chief (4/15)
DOI extends $1.2M in offers to Makah Reservation landowners (4/15)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee listening session in Montana (4/15)
Ernie Stevens: NIGA won't support racist depictions of Natives (4/15)
Navajo casino enterprise wasn't told of NFL team involvement (4/15)
Steven Newcomb: Scientists lay claim to Kumeyaay ancestors (4/15)
Opinion: Judge delivered 'remarkable opinion' in Cobell lawsuit (4/15)
Umatilla player Shoni Schimmel drafted by Atlanta WNBA team (4/15)
Fort Sill Apache Tribe wins recognition in New Mexico homeland (4/15)
CNN Series: Best places to experience Native American culture (4/15)
Lummi Nation argues for treaty fishing rights in disputed areas (4/15)
Blackfeet Nation heads into election season amid ongoing feud (4/15)
School district on Fort Peck Reservation to redraw voting areas (4/15)
Ojibwe man from Canada charged for possession of wild animals (4/15)
Navajo Technical University creates bachelor's degree program (4/15)
Opinion: Ignorance abounds in dealings with indigenous people (4/15)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.