Saturday, September 30, 2023
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Court Upholds Stricter Indian Protection Laws

(CN) - California can apply stricter Indian cultural protections than required by federal law, a state appeals court ruled, because federal law only sets minimum standards.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which makes it difficult to remove Indian children with their tribes in the interest of safeguarding culture and tribal relations, does not normally apply to juvenile delinquency cases.

But California law goes a step further, applying the Act to juvenile delinquency cases where the child faces the risk of entering foster care.

The stricter California law is not preempted by the federal law, the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled, overturning a Sacramento County Juvenile Court decision denying federal protections to a minor Crow Creek Sioux accused of misdemeanor battery and felony assault.

California law applies the Act to a broader range of cases, including the child's case, even though his case did not involve the termination of parental rights - a federal exemption, the court ruled.

"ICWA merely established minimum protections, and does not preempt legislation that is more protective of Indian children with respect to their tribal relationships," Justice Cole Blease wrote.

"The language of the federal statute and federal guidelines indicates that states may, as California has done, pass laws that are more protective than federal law of the relationship between the Indian tribes and their children," the ruling states.

"[I]t is not incompatible with federal or tribal interest, but provides the higher standard of protection to those interests," Blease added.

The appeals court ordered Sacramento County Juvenile Court to vacate its order denying application of the Act in the juvenile delinquency case. The appellate panel also ordered the juvenile court to notify the child's tribe of the case.

The Act allows custody cases to be transferred to tribal jurisdiction or lets a child's tribe intervene in his or her state court case.

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