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BIA wades into middle of custody battle

People in New Jersey may be interested to learn about the latest twist in a child custody battle between a grandmother of two Native American children and their father. The father reportedly was granted temporary custody of his two children in a state court proceeding in Minnesota. A tribal court in Montana, however, had given the grandmother temporary guardianship of the children.

The case began when the children's mother, who is the grandmother's adopted daughter, could no longer care for the children because of her drug and alcohol issues. The father, who lives in Minnesota, then filed for custody of the children. The grandmother, who is not a tribal member, took the kids to the Cheyenne reservation in Montana and has been keeping them there.

The Minnesota court had ordered the children to be turned over to their father, although the tribal court had granted guardianship to the grandmother. Officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs then went onto the reservation, taking the children to the reservation's edge and turning them over to the custody of their father. The grandmother was detained. Her attorney is working to get the arrest warrant quashed, and the matter may need to be decided in a federal court. The grandmother has alleged that the father is abusive and that the children are in danger.

Child custody matters may be very complex, as this case illustrates. Normally, cases involving children who are tribal members are decided in tribal courts instead of in state courts. This is to help prevent jurisdictional fights such as the one in this case. It is also to help children maintain their tribal identities. It will be interesting to see what a federal court decides regarding which court system has jurisdiction in this case.

Source: ABC News, "US officers take kids off reservation amid custody fight," Amy Hanson, Dec. 2, 2015.

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