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Maine joins Indian lawsuit before Supreme Court

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is joining South Carolina and several other states in defending a federal law that deals with Indian adoption rights and will be a central topic in a case that goes before the US Supreme Court next month, Attorney General Janet Mills announced Thursday.

Mills said the state signed an amicus brief in the case, defend­ing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. She ­described the facts of the case as particularly outrageous and said the case has implications in Maine, where a process is ­under way to investigate systematic removal of tribal children from their households prior to passage of the Indian Child Welfare law.

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The case involves a child born in Oklahoma to a father who is a Cherokee Nation member and a nontribal mother. The mother put up the child for adoption, and a non-Indian family in South Carolina adopted her. Mills said the father was a member of the military and was notified of the planned adoption only four days before his scheduled deployment to Iraq.

In a case challenging the adoption, the South Carolina Supreme Court ultimately ruled that it violated the Indian Child Welfare Act, which gives a parent of a tribal member strong preference for custody. The child was ordered to be ­returned to Oklahoma to be with her biological father.

‘‘The thing about this that makes it so different from a lot of other child welfare laws is that it gives preference to a third-party entity, the tribe ­itself,’’ Mills said during a press briefing attended by tribal representatives to the Maine Legislature. “[The tribe] has special standing in these cases to assert its cultural identity.”

The state has adhered to the policy of having Indian children placed with tribal families whenever possible, said Mills, a reversal of a policy of assimilation of tribal members into the white culture.

State Representative Henry John Bear, who represents the Houlton Band of Maliseets in the House, said he was placed as a child in four different foster homes of white families. While Bear said he was well treated, he said he was not taught the traditions and lore of his native people.

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