Foster Care Adoption Custody Battle Underscores Conflict Between Tribal Rights/Identity and A Child’s Best Interest

Jason and Danielle Clifford are going toe to toe with the tribal community White Earth Nation over the adoption of a six-year-old girl whom they have been fostering for over a year.  The couple is in the process of trying to adopt the child, whom they say they love very much, and who already feels like part of the family. They want their new family member to become part of their home forever. The couple has completed all of the necessary requirements for the adoption. The county is ready to approve, but the White Earth Nation has stepped in. They claim the child belongs with her biological grandmother.

The grandmother has a criminal record, and she has already been ruled out as a possible guardian by Child and Family services. She is a member of the White Earth Nation tribe, but the child’s membership has been denied by the council. When the little girl was three years old, her parents were arrested for drugs and child neglect. Their rights were subsequently severed.

This is not the first time the two systems have butted heads. In 2011 a White Earth tribal court adoption case was reversed by the Supreme Court. The Star Tribune reported, “In its order, the Supreme Court reasoned that under the Indian Child Welfare Act, tribal authority is limited to foster care placement and termination of parental rights – not adoptive placement.”

In an article published last year, the plight of American Indian children in Minnesota was highlighted. Indian children in the state are five times more likely to become victims of child abuse in the state, and 10 times more likely to end up in foster care.

Another court date is set for October 2nd. The Cliffords’ attorney is confident about their case.