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California appeals court rules in ICWA transfer case

The California Court of Appeal for the 3rd District issued a ruling in an Indian Child Welfare Act case on Thursday.

The dispute centered over the Karuk Tribe's request to transfer a child welfare case to its court. Siskiyou County objected because the tribal court hasn't been "approved" by the Interior Department.

But in a unanimous decision, the court said federal approval isn't required under ICWA even in a Public Law 280 state like California. "The language and structure ... reflect[s] congressional intent that all tribes, regardless of their 280 status, be able to accept transfer jurisdiction of ICWA cases from state courts," the decision stated.

The ruling come after a recent ICWA decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In another California case, the court said tribes do not have excusive jurisdiction in child welfare cases due to Public Law 280, which grants civil and criminal authority on Indian lands to the state.

The 9th Circuit said ICWA contains a process for a tribe to resume exclusive jurisdiction but that the Elem Tribe hadn't completed it. The California court acknowledged the 9th Circuit's holding but said it didn't apply in the Karuk Tribe's case because the tribe wasn't asserting "exclusive" jurisdiction.

Court Decision:
In re M.A. (March 9, 2006)

Relevant Links:
National Indian Child Welfare Association -

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