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In re K.M.

March 16, 2009; as modified March 26, 2009


(Super. Ct. No. J066426) (Ventura County) Tari L. Cody, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Perren, J.


C.M. appeals an order of the juvenile court terminating parental rights and finding her child adoptable. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 366.26.) She contends the juvenile court erred in giving the notices required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) (25 U.S.C. § 1901 et seq.). We affirm.


Respondent Ventura County Human Services Agency (Agency) filed a juvenile dependency petition on behalf of two-year-old K.M. on November 14, 2006. The petition alleged the mother, C.M., did not properly supervise or care for the child.

C.M. had untreated mental and emotional problems and was incarcerated for child endangerment. The child's father is unknown.

C.M. indicated on an Indian ancestry questionnaire that she was, or might be, a member of the "Cherakia" tribe. Based on this information, the Agency gave notice of the December 7, 2006, jurisdiction and disposition hearing to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee. The notices contained only the names and addresses of the child's mother and presumed father. The Eastern Band and United Keetoowah Band sent replies that K.M. was not a member of that tribe.

In a memorandum dated December 3, 2007, the social worker explained that she had asked the mother several times for further information regarding her Indian ancestry, and mother referred the social worker to her mother. On October 21, 2007, the social worker asked the maternal grandmother about the family's Indian ancestry. She told the social worker that she had Choctaw ancestry and her ex-husband had Cherokee ancestry. She provided the social worker with their birthdates. She also provided the names of the child's great-grandparents and indicated they had Indian ancestry. The maternal grandmother was unwilling to provide further information regarding the child's possible Indian ancestry because she believed the Agency was not properly managing the child's case. According to the social worker, grandmother said, "I'll give you the information when my baby is back with me. I'm not going to give you anything so that those foster parents . . . can get any money for my baby."

The social worker spoke with mother once again on December 7, 2007, about the child's possible Indian heritage. At that time, mother provided the names of her paternal grandmother, but could not provide an address or telephone number for her or any other relevant information. Mother also identified her maternal great-grandmother and maternal grandfather but could provide no further information about them.

After being informed that the grandmother and grandfather had Cherokee and Choctaw heritage, the Agency sent additional notices to the Cherokee tribes and BIA, and to the Jena Band-Choctaw, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The notices included the names of the child's maternal grandmother and grandfather and maternal great-grandmother and great-grandfather. None of the tribes indicated that K.M. was a member of a tribe. At the hearing terminating parental rights on February 28, 2008, the trial court found that K.M. was not an Indian child.


C.M. contends that termination of her parental rights must be reversed because the Agency did not interview the child's great-grandmother regarding possible Indian ancestry.

ICWA protects the interests of Indian children and promotes the stability and security of Indian tribes by establishing minimum standards for, and permitting tribal participation in, dependency actions. (25 U.S.C. §§ 1901, 1902, 1903(1), 1911(c), 1912.) For purposes of ICWA, an "Indian child" is one who is either a "member of an Indian tribe" or is "eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe." (25 U.S.C. § 1903(4).) The juvenile court and social services agencies have an affirmative duty to inquire at the outset of the proceedings whether a child who is subject to the proceedings is, or may be, an Indian child. (In re Desiree F. (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 460, 469-470.)

The object of tribal notice is to enable a review of tribal records to ascertain a child's status under ICWA. (In re D.T. (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 1449, 1455.) The notices "must contain enough information to be meaningful. [Citation.] The notice must include: if known, (1) the Indian child's name, birthplace, and birth date; (2) the name of the tribe in which the Indian child is enrolled or may be eligible for enrollment; (3) names and addresses of the child's parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and other identifying information; and (4) a copy of the dependency petition." (In re Francisco W. (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 695, 703.) "It is essential to provide the Indian tribe with all available information about the child's ancestors, especially the one with alleged Indian heritage. [Citation.] Notice . . . must include available information about the maternal and paternal grandparents and great-grandparents, ...

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