From time to time, a custody fight involving a Native American tribe makes headlines across the nation. Tribes have their own courts and law enforcement, but their jurisdiction is strictly limited to tribal lands. When a child custody fight involves a child of Native American descent, a legal battle sometimes erupts between parties, tribal courts and state courts. An example is found in a current case in Kendall, Florida.
A member of the Miccosukee tribe recently gave birth to a baby girl. While still in the hospital, tribal law enforcement officers brought in a court order granting custody of the newborn to her maternal grandmother. The officers were accompanied by officers from the Miami-Dade County Police Department, and hospital officials complied with the order, allowing the newborn to be removed from her mother’s care.
The mother claims that her own mother took action to gain custody in tribal court because she does not want the infant’s father, who is white, to have any involvement in the child’s life. The grandmother claims that her custody actions were based on evidence that the man has abused her daughter’s other two children from a previous relationship. As of the time of this report, the location of the children and the grandmother is not known.
The case will go before a Florida court to determine which court has jurisdiction over the matter. Senator Marco Rubio has weighed in on the issue, claiming that tribal police had no right to remove the child from the care of the parents. The Miami-Dade Police Department says that they were misled about the nature of the court order, and thought that they were helping to enforce a federal court order. As the child custody case plays out, debate continues on how to balance tribal rights with those of the surrounding community members.
Source: kmbz.com, “Child custody case erupts in dispute between state and Native American tribe”, March 22, 2018