Friday, March 29, 2013

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

Tribal Supreme Court Project Press Release
Native American Rights Fund | National Congress of American Indians
in partnership with the National Indian Child Welfare Association

For Immediate Release
March 29, 2013

Media Contacts:
Thom Wallace
National Congress of American Indians 
O (202) 466-7767 ext. 207
C (202) 630-1094                   

Nicole Adams
National Indian Child Welfare Association
O (503) 222-4044 ext. 133
C (503)754-0466

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

Amicus Briefs in Support of Brown Family Include U.S. Solicitor General, 19 States, and Broad Coalition of Supporters

Twenty-Four Briefs Call for Brown Family—Daughter, Veronica, and
Father, Dusten—to Remain Together and
Indian Child Welfare Act to Remain Intact

Brown Family, Who Have Prevailed in Every Court So Far, Will Have
Fate Decided by the Supreme Court in a Case to be Heard on April 16th
Washington, DC—The United States federal government and 19 states are among a broad coalition who filed amicus briefs yesterday with the United States Supreme Court supporting the rights of Native American father Dusten Brown and his daughter, Veronica, to remain together as a family, calling for the nation's highest court to uphold a previous South Carolina Supreme Court decision. The well-being of Veronica, the Brown family, and the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a focus of all the briefs.

The case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, to be heard by the Supreme Court on April 16, 2013, involves a South Carolina couple seeking review of a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling and attempting to force Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, to give his daughter Veronica up for adoption. Mr. Brown, who is now raising Veronica at their home in Oklahoma, has prevailed in every court that has considered this matter, including the South Carolina Family Court and the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Joining the U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and 19 states, including 18 state attorneys general, are a large array of groups who submitted 24 separate briefs in all. The overwhelming support includes 17 former and current members of Congress; Casey Family Programs, the Children's Defense Fund, and 16 other child welfare organizations; the American Civil Liberties Union; broad coalitions of psychology associations, child advocates, and legal experts; adult Native American adoptees; and tribal amicus briefs which include 333 American Indian tribes.

"The broad base of support in this case is historic. In the history of the work of the Tribal Supreme Court Project, no Indian law case has generated more of a unified message to the Supreme Court about Indian law," said Richard Guest, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), noting the outpouring of interest and support for Veronica, the Brown family, and ICWA.

Many of the briefs highlight the findings of the South Carolina Family Court, which found that "the birth father is a fit and proper person to have custody of his child" who "has convinced [the Court] of his unwavering love for this child," and were upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The amicus brief of the United States federal government emphasized the importance of ICWA, stating that "the United States has a substantial interest in the case because Congress enacted ICWA in furtherance of 'the special relationship between the United States and the Indian tribes and their members and the Federal responsibility to Indian people.'" The brief further defends the constitutionality of ICWA, arguing that "ICWA, which is predicated on Congress's considered judgment that application of its protections serves the best interests of Indian children and protects vital interests of their parents and Tribes, does not violate any substantive due process protections." It concludes that "[t]he South Carolina courts properly awarded custody of Baby Girl to Father."

In the brief of leading national child welfare organizations, the best interest of the child is highlighted, in addition to the value of ICWA.

No one understands the human toll custody disputes can take more than amici, 18 child welfare organizations who have dedicated literally scores of years to the on-the-ground development and implementation of best practices and policies for child placement decision making. Amici have seen up close what works, and what does not. In amici's collective judgment, ICWA works very well and, in fact, is a model for child welfare and placement decision making that should be extended to all children. Much forward progress in the child welfare area would be damaged by rolling the law back.

A brief from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne was joined by attorneys general from 17 other states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin— and argued against interference in the relationship between states and tribes in matters regarding ICWA, asserting, "States and tribes have collaborated to ensure that the mandates and spirit of ICWA are fulfilled…. Early and complete compliance with ICWA ensures the security and stability of adoptive families as well as tribes and Indian families." The State of Minnesota Department of Human Services also filed a brief.

Not one state submitted briefs in support of Adoptive Couple.

"This brief includes nine Republican and nine Democrat attorneys general," said John Dossett, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) general counsel. "Party affiliation does not matter. The federal trust responsibility is a nonpartisan commitment, which includes support for the rights of American Indian families and tribal governments to protect their Indian children—and in this case, for a loving father to be with his daughter and for her to be with her family."

Seventeen current and former members of Congress also reflected this bipartisan support, noting in their brief the circumstances that led to the enactment of ICWA in 1978, as well as asserting Congress's exclusive power to legislate with respect to Indian tribes. It stated:

In 1978, Congress enacted ICWA in direct response to state adoption policies that were draining Indian tribes of their future citizens. Such practices threatened the very existence of Indian tribes. Without children to grow up as their citizens, tribes would be left with no one to speak their language, carry on their traditions and culture, or participate in their tribal governments…. Ultimately, any decision limiting Congress's authority to pass legislation like ICWA…would effectively preclude Congress from exercising its plenary authority in Indian affairs, and render Congress unable to fulfill its historic duties as trustee to the Indian tribes.

Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), commended former Senator James Abourezk for taking the lead on the brief, stating, "Senator Abourezk sponsored the bill that became ICWA because he recognized that the widespread removal of Indian children from their homes was a continuation of forced assimilation practices that had no place in our society. His leadership today sends an unmistakable message that there is unified support in defending his law from those who would return to the pre-ICWA era."

Two national tribal amicus briefs were submitted. The first, focused on the legislative history and importance of ICWA, was submitted by the Association on American Indian Affairs, NCAI, and NICWA, who were joined by 30 Indian tribes and five Indian organizations. A second national tribal amicus brief addresses the constitutional issues raised by the petitioners and also includes 24 tribal nations and organizations. The members of the Tribal Supreme Court Project—NARF and NCAI—in partnership with NICWA, joined together to organize the briefs in support of the father. In all, 333 tribes submitted briefs in support of the father.

Oral arguments for Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl will be held on April 16, with a decision expected shortly thereafter.

Resources: List and Links

Amici in Support of Respondents

Non-Indian Organizations

Law Professors and Academics

Tribes and Indian Organizations


All of the briefs filed by supporters of Dusten Brown's right to raise his daughter can be found at:

All filings for the case can be found at:

More information about the case can be found at:

NARF News: Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth presents at National Criminal Justice Month panel on Tribal Courts

Earlier this week NARF
Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth presented at the University of Alaska, Anchorage Justice Center on “Tribal Courts in Alaska: Past, Present, and Future.”  The panel was organized as part of the University’s programming for National Criminal Justice Month.  To learn more about the panel and other participants, follow this linkTo listen to a radio story on the panel, follow this link.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

April 5, 2013 - A Moment in Vine


First Friday, April 5 -  7:30 PM

Located at Elysian Fields Auctions 6924 79th Street, Niwot, Colorado  (Look for the signs!)

Screenings are FREE with a suggested donation.

Ava Hamilton, Film Festival Curator/ Director will introduce the documentaries and films.  

April 5, 2013 - A Moment in Vine

Vine Deloria, Jr. was one of the most important spiritual, legal, and historical figures of the twentieth century.  A member of one of the Sioux Nation's most prominent lineages, Vine Deloria Jr., rose to the world's attention during the tumultuous 1960's as an agressive and uncompromising advocate for indigenous people across the Americans.  

The story behind Vine Deloria, Jr., evokes compassion, while gaining an insight into Native America through Vine's literary works.  Through interviews, Vine Deloria, Jr., gives viewers the opportunity to take stock reflect, and understand the Native American experience.

Now, based in part on a series of interviews held during his last years, comes the first documentary to accurately portray this pivotal figure and the impact he had on Indian country and the United States.

Authors:  Darren Kipp, Jennifer Newell Easton, Irene M. Romero.  A DreamCatchers Film, 360 Degree Films. 
Festival is hosted by Native American Producers Alliance & Ni-wot Prairie Productions.

Sponsors/ Contributors: Native American Rights Fund, Elysian Fields Auction Co., and WHIZZBang Studios

For information, please contact Elizabeth Darling at: or 303.931.3084

Native American Producers Alliance and Ni-wot Prairie Productions ar 501(c)(3) organizations.


Introducing ICWA Info - A growing collection of ICWA-related news and resources

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and Casey Family Programs are pleased to announce the launch of ICWA Info, a new online resource for people working on Indian child welfare issues.

ICWA Info is designed to provide the public with information and timely updates about all things related to Indian child welfare and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  This would include,  but is not limited to:

• news about lawsuits related to ICWA in tribal, state, and federal courts,
• related training and conferences,
• legal developments, analysis, and research resources,
• information about relevant groups and agencies,
• and job postings.

While it is a news blog, covering current events, ICWA Info also serves as a growing collection of information for those who want to know more about Indian child welfare issues.  It is a resource that will be useful to tribal leaders, attorneys and judges, social workers, and families—anyone affected by Indian child welfare issues. 

Please visit the site and sign up for updates via email or RSS.  Also, if you have ICWA-related information or websites that you think we should include, please use the contact form to let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

David Selden
National Indian Law Library/NARF

Friday, March 22, 2013

NARF Staff Attorney Don Wharton presents at meeting of Indian Council of Architects and Engineers

Earlier this week NARF Staff Attorney Don Wharton gave a presentation to the American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers.  Don’s talk focused on the Boarding School Healing Project
and NARF’s broader work on behalf of Indian Country.  To learn more about NARF’s involvement with the Boarding School Healing Symposium, click here.  And, to learn more about the Boarding School Healing Project, click here

NARF Applauds Sponsors of Proposed Legislation to Curtail Offensive “Redskin” Trademark

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) fully supports the introduction of H.R. 1278, a new landmark bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would amend the Trademark Act of 1946 regarding the disparagement of Native Americans through marks that use the term “redskin.”

Rep. Faleomavaega, one of the
sponsors of H.R. 1278
NARF commends Rep. Faleomavaega and all the original sponsors of this important bill, which sends a clear signal that some members of Congress do not take anti-Native stereotyping and discrimination lightly.  These Representatives now join Native American nations, organizations and people who have lost patience with the intransigence of the Washington pro football franchise in holding on to the indefensible – a racial epithet masquerading as a team name.

NARF also commends all those individuals in the on-going Harjo and Blackhorse proceedings in federal agencies and courts for their tireless advocacy attempting in righting this wrong.  While these cases have yet to succeed, they have provided the springboard for legislative efforts like the new bill.

For over 20 years NARF has been involved in the cases, attempting to accomplish what this bill, if enacted, would do.  NARF represented the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC)), and the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism (TICAR) as amici curiae in Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc.  NARF also organized amici briefs in support of the Native petition for Supreme Court review, including one by a broad range of Native nations and organizations, and others by law professors, psychology professors and social justice advocacy groups.

NARF, NCAI, NIEA NIYC, TICAR and other major Native American organizations all have raised concerns regarding race-based stereotyping and behaviors in sports,, particularly the racially derogatory name and logo of the "Washington Redskins" professional football organization. Such concerns have been expressed through numerous communications, public statements, and meetings, including a 1972 meeting with then Washington Redskins president Edward Bennett Williams, after which no team owner ever met with Native people opposing the name.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered six trademarks between 1967 and 1990 that consist of racially derogatory and disparaging material, which opens Native Americans to contempt and public ridicule in violation of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.c. § 1052(a).  While there is enormous uplifting good in the human spirit, racism is the dark side of humanity that has caused much suffering among our diverse human family.  Section 1052(a) wisely recognizes that one basic manifestation of prejudice, discrimination, or racism is the use of racially derogatory names, caricatures, or stereotypes that disparage peoples and persons and hold them up to contempt and ridicule; and this statute safeguards citizens through the registration of  such trademarks.

In ruling unanimously in the Harjo case to cancel the “Redskins” trademarks, the PTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) admitted that the six existing trademark licenses should not have been approved. That ruling was overturned on a technicality, laches, which was interpreted to mean that the plaintiffs waited too long after turning 18 to file suit. The current Blackhorse case is identical, except that the plaintiffs filed when they were 18 to 24. In a recent hearing before the PTO TTAB, the Washington franchise argued that even these young plaintiffs waited too long and should have filed on the day they turned 18. In addition to this ongoing trademark cancelation case, Native people have filed Letters of Protest with the PTO to stop new requests for trademark licenses for the same disparaging name.

Should this legislation be enacted, it would provide justice to the plaintiffs and protestors in these cases, would free the PTO to automatically deny federal protection for this disparagement, and would spare present and future Native American peoples and persons from suffering public humiliation and discrimination from the name of the team in the nation’s capitol.

Native nations and citizens have a treaty, trust and special relationship with the United States, and rely on the federal government more than any other segment of society to make certain that its actions do no harm. Because of the duty of care owed to Indian tribes and people by the Department of Commerce, it is incumbent upon them to strictly enforce the provisions of 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), in order to safeguard Indian tribes and citizens from racially or culturally disparaging federal trademarks.  They are required by law to assess the issues in light of its federal Indian trust relationship and associated fiduciary duties to protect Indians and Indian culture from degrading federal trademark registrations.  That trust relationship encompasses an affirmative duty on behalf of the Department of Commerce and the PTO TTAB to protect tribal culture and safeguard Native Americans from racism in sports conducted under color of federal law.

Founded in 1970, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) is the oldest and largest nonprofit law firm dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide.  NARF’s practice is concentrated in five key areas: the preservation of tribal existence; the protection of tribal natural resources; the promotion of Native American human rights; the accountability of governments to Native Americans; and the development of Indian law and educating the public about Indian rights, laws, and issues.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

NARF Board Member nominated to California’s State Historical Resources Commission

NARF Board Member Marshall McKay has been appointed by California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. to California’s State Historical Resources Commission.  Marshall has served as the tribal chairman for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation since 2006 and was a tribal council member from 1984 to 2006.  In addition to serving on NARF’s Board of Directors, Marshall serves as chair of the Autry National Center, is a delegate to the National Indian Gaming Association, and is a member of the California Native American Heritage Commission.  To learn more about Marshall, click here.  To learn more about California’s State Historical Resources Commission, click here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NARF Participates in 2013 National Reservation Economic Summit

Last week NARF Executive Director John Echohawk and Director of Development Morgan O’Brien were in Las Vegas attending the 2013 National Reservation Economic Summit (RES).  RES is an opportunity for tribal leaders and tribal business owners to attend business development sessions and meet with state and federal elected officials.  John is a 25-year member of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development and he led a panel discussion at RES on the Native Ways Federation workplace giving program.  To learn more about RES, click here.  And, to learn more about the Native Ways Federation, click here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Staff Attorney Kim Gottschalk presents to Fellows from the German Marshall Fund

This week NARF Staff Attorney Kim Gottschalk gave a presentation to Fellows from the German Marshall Fund (GMF), an organization that works to strengthen cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges.  Kim’s presentation to the GMF Fellows focused on federal Indian law and the legal status of Native Americans.  For more information on the GMF, follow this link.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth Quoted in Article on Alaska Native Voting Issues

Cucuklillruunga!  I Voted!
NARF Staff Attorney Natalie Landreth was recently quoted in an article that discussed poll closings in Alaska Native villages, a voter identification bill in the Alaska Legislature, the redistricting process, and the availability of election materials in indigenous languages – all issued tied to protections under the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).  Alaska is one of just nine states that are subject to U.S. Justice Department supervision under Section 5 of the VRA, which means that any change to voting procedures must be cleared by the U.S. Justice Department before it can be implemented.  To read the full article, click here.  And, to read more about NARF’s 2008 lawsuit against the State of Alaska’s Division of Elections for its failure to provide language assistance, click here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

NARF Staff Attorney Richard Guest Quoted in Article on Important Tribal Lands Case

NARF Staff Attorney Richard Guest was recently quoted in an article discussing the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s important tribal lands case.  To read the article, click here.  And, to learn about the Tribal Supreme Court Project which monitors Indian law cases in the state and federal courts, click here.


NARF Executive Director John Echohawk to Speak at the University of Colorado Law School American Indian Law Program’s Annual Conference


NARF Executive Director John Echohawk will speak at “People of the Shining Mountains: The Legal Past, Present, and Future of the Ute Tribes,” this year’s Annual Conference put on by University of Colorado Law School’s American Indian Law Program scheduled for April 4-5.  The Conference has a long and interesting agenda and John will be giving the lunchtime address on Friday, April 5.  To learn more about the Conference, click here.  To learn more about John Echohawk, click here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Billy Mills Awarded Presidential Citizens Medal

NARF National Support Committee member Billy Mills was awarded the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal on February 15th by President Barak Obama.  Mills is a co-founder and the National Spokesperson of Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization that strives to build the capacity of communities, grassroots Indian organizations, families, and individuals to leverage their strengths and solve problems.

“I am humbled and honored to be recognized by the President in this extraordinary way,” said Billy. “The most powerful thing you can give to a child is a dream. I hope every child in Indian Country knows what is possible if you follow your dream.”

Mills, who is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, won an Olympic Gold Medal in the 10,000 meters. He remains the only American to ever win the event.  Mills' win in the 10,000 meters is considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.

Running Strong and NARF are two of seven national Native nonprofits that have formed the Native Ways Federation, a workplace giving and charity accountability organization serving tribes and Native peoples around the country, leveraging national strength for local impact.

Mills was one of 18 people who received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian award in the United States, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Each year some 6,000 applications are received by the White House for consideration to receive the Medal.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Congress Reauthorizes Violence Against Women Act Extending New Tribal Provisions to Only Some of the Nation’s Tribes

United States Congress
Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the U.S. Senate’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which includes new jurisdictional provisions that authorize tribal governments to prosecute non-Indian defendants involved in relationships with Native women and who assault their victims on tribal lands.  However, these new provisions unfortunately do not extend to 228 tribes in Alaska, roughly 40% of all the tribes in the United States.  To read more about the new provisions, click here for a press release from the National Congress of American Indians.  To read more about the exclusion of nearly all of Alaska’s tribes from VAWA’s new provisions, click here for a press release from NARF’s Alaska office.