People in Interest of K.C.
2021 CO 33. No. 20SC533. Juvenile Court—Termination of Parent-Child Legal Relationship—Indian Child Welfare Act—Eligibility for Tribal Citizenship.
May 24, 2021
This termination of parental rights proceeding involves two children who are eligible for enrollment in the Chickasaw Nation (Nation) but who are not “Indian Children” as defined by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
The Supreme Court first considered whether, under the circumstances here, ICWA requires a district court to hold an enrollment hearing as a prerequisite to the termination of parental rights. All the parties before the Court, and the Nation itself, contended that the division erred in requiring an enrollment hearing. Because no statutory basis exists for such a hearing, and because such a hearing conflicts with the Nation’s exclusive right to determine who is an enrolled citizen, the Court agreed that the division erred in requiring such a hearing.
The Court next considered whether the Department of Human Services has an obligation to assist children who are eligible for enrollment in becoming enrolled citizens of a tribal nation. The Court concluded that although the issue may call for legislative action, under current law, the Department has no obligation to assist children who are eligible for enrollment in becoming enrolled citizens of a tribal nation. The Court noted, however, that it might be the better practice for the Department to advise on and perhaps assist with the enrollment process.
Accordingly, the Court reversed the division’s judgment and reinstated the district court’s judgment terminating the parent-child legal relationships.