Ancestry.com results that a relative has significant Native American ancestry, without additional information regarding a possible tribe or geographic area of origin, is not sufficient to trigger a duty to further inquire under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Paternal grandmother submitted her DNA to Ancestry.com, the results of which indicated that she was 54% Native American. Paternal grandmother was shocked by these results and was not aware that any of her relatives were eligible for enrollment in any tribe. The results did not provide an associated tribe of descent. Based on this information, the court found that ICWA did not apply. Mother appealed the jurisdictional and dispositional findings and contended that the department had not complied with ICWA. The appellate court rejected the argument and affirmed. Federal regulations implementing ICWA require that state courts ask each participant in a child custody proceeding whether they have a reason to know if a child is an Indian child. An Indian child is a member of, or is eligible for membership in, a federally recognized Indian tribe or is the biological child of a member of a federally recognized tribe. The term “Native American” has a different connotation for purposes of Ancestry.com, which includes ethnic origins from North and South America. Because the Ancestry.com results did not contain the identity of a possible tribe or any specific geographical region, the results have little usefulness in determining whether the minors were Indian children as defined under ICWA. Transmission of notice to the Bureau of Indian Affairs would have been an idle act as they could not have assisted the Department in identifying a tribal agent for any relevant federally-recognized tribe without the identity of the tribe or at least a specific geographic area of possible ancestry origin.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B301715.PDF