Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Indian Child Welfare Act Conference set for August 13 at Choctaw

August 6, 2019

The Ninth Annual Indian Child Welfare Act Conference will be held Aug. 13 at the Silver Star Convention Center at Choctaw. The President of the National American Indian Court Judges Association, Chief Judge Richard Blake of Hoopa, Calif., will be the keynote speaker.

The opening ceremony at 8:30 a.m. will include the National Anthem sung in the Choctaw language. Chief Cyrus Ben of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services Commissioner Jess H. Dickinson will welcome conference participants at 9 a.m. Justice Dawn Beam will bring greetings from the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Judge Blake’s keynote address, at 9:15 a.m., is titled “Human Trafficking in Indian Country.” At 10:45 a.m., Chief Judge Blake will provide an update on pending cases across the country that affect the Indian Child Welfare Act.

ICWA sets out federal requirements regarding removal and placement of Native American children in foster or adoptive homes. ICWA aims to preserve tribal culture and safeguard the rights of Native American children to their heritage.

At 1 p.m., the conference will present ICWA Landmark Cases and Ethical Guidelines. The principal speaker will be Associate Justice Ed Smith of the Choctaw Tribal Supreme Court. Smith was the attorney who represented the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in the 1989 case Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, which interpreted the enforcement of ICWA. The Holyfield case involved the adoption of twins born to members of the Choctaw tribe. The parents agreed to the twins’ adoption by a non-Native American couple. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians successfully moved to vacate the adoption, asserting that the Tribal court had exclusive jurisdiction under ICWA. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

Chief Judge Blake will participate in an ethics panel at 2:30 p.m., along with Judge Roy Jim of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Anne Nelson of the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services.

The final session at 3:30 p.m. will cover the role of child advocacy centers, featuring Karla Tye, executive director of Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi and Dawn Brewer of the Choctaw Children’s Advocacy Center.

Tribal leaders, attorneys, judges, social workers and other professionals who deal with Native American children in a Youth Court setting are expected to attend the ICWA conference. The conference, hosted annually by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, began nine years ago as an effort to educate state judges and social workers on the requirements of ICWA. The U.S. Congress in 1978 set requirements which apply to state child custody proceedings involving any Native American child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.

Chief Judge Blake is member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe of California and is Tribal Chief Judge. He also is contractual Chief Judge for the Redding Rancheria and Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation Tribal Courts. As a member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, he leads a local School Pathways to the Juvenile Justice System Project, a collaborative effort to reduce referrals of youth to juvenile courts for school-based misbehaviors and to expand the use of positive disciplinary practices in schools.