The Michigan House of Representatives called Tuesday for a second reading of the Indian Family Preservation Act, but some are certain that it will pass into law.
The bill was presented to the House with recommendation without amendment by state Rep. Kenneth Kurtz (R-Coldwater), chair of the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors.
Bruce Noll, legislative assistant to Kurtz, said his office expects the bill to pass because there is “not much controversy” surrounding the issue.
Noll said the law would bring the state into compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act and eliminate confusion in the Michigan court system by clarifying presently ambiguous rules.
“(There were) judges not following the federal law because they didn’t understand it, so this takes the federal law and puts it into state statutes,” he said.
The new law would require Michigan courts and the Department of Human Services to make active efforts to provide “culturally appropriate” services to an Indian child in situations involving adoption, foster care, termination of parental rights or other legal matters.
“In many of our state courts, cases can be impacted by the ICWA, and we need to make sure that everyone has the proper tools to preserve the tribe’s most precious resource, the family,” State Sen. Judy Emmons wrote on her legislative website. Emmons proposed the act in August.
Laura Toy, chief of staff for Emmons’ office, said the senator has been working on the bill for six months after having been confronted by members of the Chippewa tribe in her district.
“Sen. Emmons represents Mount Pleasant where there’s a large contingency of Chippewa there, as well as some of the concerns that they had in regard to the whole question of children and adoption and things like that,” Toy said.
The senate passed the bill 36-2 in September before referring it to the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors, where it was passed unchanged to the House floor.
Sen. David Robertson was one of the two senators who opposed the bill, but his legislative aide, April Alleman, said he is now in favor of its passing. Sen. Bruce Caswell was the other naysayer, but he was unavailable to comment on his position.
The goal of the act is to keep Indian children connected to their tribe and consequently preserve native culture throughout the next generations by placing children in an environment reflecting the values of the tribe.
The bill states that if a court has any reason to believe that a child is of Indian descent, it must confirm the child’s racial identity and then notify the tribe of the circumstances. Then, the court proceeds by trying to place the child with extended family, another family within the tribe or, as a last resort, a family of a different Indian tribe.
Another facet of the bill grants Indian tribes exclusive jurisdiction over any child custody case involving an Indian child living on a reservation.
The Chippewa tribe of Mount Pleasant and the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan declined to comment on the bill and circumstances surrounding it.
The Michigan House of Representatives is scheduled to discuss the Indian Family Preservation Act during its Dec. 11 meeting.
For more information or to read the bill in its entirety, search Senate Bill 1232 on http://www.legislature.mi.gov.