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Name: In re Elizabeth M.
Case #: B284123
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 01/22/2018

Parental rights termination was reversed and remanded where Department failed to adequately investigate mother’s claim of Indian ancestry. In a dependency proceeding, mother indicated that the minors might have Indian ancestry, and named the tribe as “Redtail.” The Department sent ICWA notices to the BIA which contained no names or information concerning any of the children’s relatives other than the parents. Although the notices indicated that the father may be affiliated with the Red Tail tribe, no notice was sent directly to a tribe identified as “Red Tail.” The BIA responded that the Department’s notice contained insufficient information to determine a tribal affiliation, and a Department investigator stated there was no federally recognized tribe named “Red Tail.” The juvenile court ruled that ICWA did not apply. Nothing in the record suggests that other relatives were interviewed regarding the family’s possible Indian ancestry, although relatives were present at the hearings. In his appeal from the termination of parental rights, father joined in mother’s argument that there was an inadequate investigation of mother’s claim of Indian ancestry. The appellate court reversed and remanded for proper compliance with the inquiry and notice provisions of ICWA. The Department did not adequately investigate mother’s claim of Indian ancestry. The agency has an obligation to interview family members and others who could be expected to have relevant information concerning the child’s status before concluding that ICWA does not apply to a case. Further, an adequate investigation of a family member’s belief a child may have Indian ancestry is essential to ensuring a tribe entitled to ICWA notice will receive it. Although there is no federally recognized Red Tail tribe, Red Tailed Hawk is one of the seven clans of the Cherokee Nation. Since the Department did not speak to any family members who might have had relevant information, it cannot be known whether the minors had Cherokee ancestry, or whether the overlap between the names is simply a coincidence.