Adoption

Native Village of Venetie v. Alaska, 944 F.2d 548 (9th Cir. 1991); Native Village of Venetie IRA Council v. State (Decision-Tribal Status), WL 730898 (D. Alaska 1994) 
Full text of the decision can be accessed here.

The “Venetie Adoption Case” was filed in 1986 by the Native Villages of Venetie and Fort Yukon—two villages that granted adoptions over tribal children and the State of Alaska refused to issue new birth certificates.  The adoptive parents and the villages brought suit to require the State to recognize tribally-granted adoptions.  The Ninth Circuit (a federal court) ruled that Venetie and Fort Yukon would have to prove that they were the modern-day successors to historically recognized tribal entities.  However, there was now a conflict between state and federal courts which led the Department of the Interior to issue a Solicitor’s opinion (called the Sansonetti opinion), concluding that there were federally recognized tribes in Alaska with authority over tribal members.  After the opinion was issued, the Department of the Interior issued its list of federally recognized tribes in Alaska in 1993.

After trial, the court found that Venetie had been federally recognized as a tribe prior to the issuance of the 1993 list, and therefore Venetie’s adoption decree was entitled to full faith and credit.  Therefore, the State of Alaska was to give deference to Venetie’s adoption decree and issue new birth certificates for the adopted children. 

Bottom line: This case established the authority of any federally recognized tribe in Alaska to grant adoptions of tribal children.


Native Village of Tununak v. State of Alaska, Office of Children's Services and H.S. and K.S., S-14670 (Alaska Supreme Court, Argued January 15, 2014): 
An opinion in this case has not yet been issued.

Shortly after the Tribe asked for a placement review hearing, the non-Native, non-relative foster parents filed a petition to adopt the Native child in question.  The Tribe moved to stay the adoption pending the appeal of the placement hearing. The trial court denied the Tribe’s request.

At the adoption hearing, the Tribe argued that ICWA would not allow the child’s adoption by a non-Native non-relative family unless OCS could show that there were no relative or Native families willing and able to adopt her. The trial court held that the Tribe was collaterally estopped (barred) from making this argument because the Tribe had previously proposed that the child be placed with her grandmother and lost: the court would not allow the Tribe to re-argue the issue that had been decided at the placement hearing.  The Tribe argued that forcing OCS to show that there were no Native homes willing to adopt the child (i.e. that there was good cause to deviate from ICWA generally) was different from forcing OCS to show that there was good cause not to place the child with her grandmother (a specific ICWA-compliant placement).  The trial court disagreed, and allowed the adoption to go forward.

The Tribe appealed.  After issuing Native Village of Tununak v. Dep’t of Health & Soc. Servs. (click here for more information), the Court asked the parties what its decision meant for the adoption appeal. The Tribe argued that because the adoption was explicitly based on the trial court’s placement decision, which had been reversed and remanded, the adoption too should be vacated and remanded for further proceedings.  OCS and the adoptive parents argued that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 133 S.Ct. 2552 (2013), issued 4 days after Tununak, changed everything.  They argued that Baby Girl holds that ICWA’s placement preferences do not apply in an adoption case until a relative or Native family files a petition to adopt the child.  Because the child’s maternal grandmother did not file an adoption petition in this case, OCS and the adoptive parents argued that ICWA’s placement preferences did not apply.  And they argued that because the Tribe’s appeal was based on ICWA’s placement preferences, its appeal was moot, the adoption could not be challenged, and the remanded placement case was moot.

The Supreme Court ordered additional briefing and oral argument on the application of Baby Girl to the adoption case.  OCS and the adoptive parents repeated their arguments that this case is moot.  The Tribe argued that 1) Baby Girl’s limitations on ICWA’s placement preferences apply in the voluntary private adoption context, not the state-driven child protection context, and 2) the grandmother in this case did formally seek to adopt the child, and was not required to file an adoption petition.  We are awaiting a decision in this case.

AlaskaTribes.org