On February 18, 2015 the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) delivered a letter to Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott and Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson condemning the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision in Native Village of Tununak v. State (Tununak II), and asking the State to reconsider its position in the case going forward.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision held that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)’s adoptive placement preferences – critical laws intended to keep Native American and Alaska Native children connected with their families and cultures – do not apply unless a preferred placement (a member of the child’s extended family, a Tribal member, or another Native family) has filed a formal petition to adopt the child in State court. Prior to this decision, a formal petition to adopt a child in State court from a preferred placement was not required, and it creates huge obstacles for other rural Native families in Alaska. AVCP’s letter notes that “the decision promises to effectively invalidate ICWA’s most important protection for our children, families, and communities.”
Throughout this case the Native Village of Tununak (the child’s Tribe) and the grandmother had asked both OCS and the court to place her granddaughter with her; however the Supreme Court ruled that ICWA’s protections did not apply because the grandmother had never filed a formal adoption petition. The child’s ties to her family, including to her grandmother, were formally severed, and the adoption to the non-Native non-relative family was allowed to stand.
The Native Village of Tununak, the United States Department of Justice, and attorneys representing the Native grandmother who was denied adoptive placement of her granddaughter by the decision, have all requested that the Alaska Supreme Court rehear the case, and AVCP is urging the State of Alaska to join the request.
Myron P. Naneng, Sr., President of AVCP states that he “knows Lieutenant Governor Mallott and Commissioner Davidson understand the importance of maintaining connections between Native children and their families and communities.” AVCP is hopeful that the new administration will consider the serious barriers that Tununak II has created for Native children in State custody and the relatives or Native families who hope to adopt them, and will change its position.
About the Association of Village Council Presidents
AVCP has been serving Tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region for 50 years, by providing, at their request, a variety of social services, human development and culturally relevant programs that promote tribal self-determination and self-governance, and work to protect tribal culture and traditions. For more information, visit www.avcp.org.
Contact: Nicole D. Franklin, Acting General Counsel
(907) 543-7310 (office)