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Washington Supreme Court Opinion Clarifies Rights of Parents under ICWA, WICWA

Harvey Barrison
Flickr -
File photo of The Temple of Justice in Olympia, Washington.

State and federal law protect the rights of Native American children even when one of their parents is not Indian. That’s the word today from the Washington state Supreme Court.

A woman with a child remarried. A court in southwest Washington agreed to terminate the parental rights of the child's father -- her ex. He was in prison and had problems with drugs.

But in this case, the state high court said that shouldn't have happened -- at least, not so fast. Because even though the child, the mother and the stepfather are all Indian and the father is not, the child's rights are protected under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act and the Washington Indian Child Welfare Act.

Craig Dorsay represented the Samish tribe as a friend of the court. He called the opinion “a very good win for tribes, Indian families and Indian children.”

“The fact that the child may have an Indian parent and a non-Indian parent, should not avoid or reduce protections that the act is designed to afford to the child,” Dorsay said.

But Mark Fiddler, counsel for the child’s mother, argued the opinion lays out guidelines that “no other father would have to follow.” For example, he said if no parties had been Indian, the father’s rights would have likely remained terminated.

In the long run, Dorsay said it sets a precedent for all private adoption cases involving Native American children.

The Supreme Court has sent the case back to the trial court for reconsideration.