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.
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.