- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court decision against Tununak that allowed an Alaska Native infant girl from the western Alaska village to be adopted by non-Native parents.

The higher court agreed in a split decision with an earlier Superior Court ruling that the baby’s well-being trumped legal preferences under federal law designed to keep children with Native American communities when possible, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://is.gd/ZSkFFW) reported.

In its Sept. 12 action, the state Supreme Court said the lower court correctly allowed a non-Native Anchorage couple to adopt the girl because an approved member of her biological family did not formally file to adopt her.

Justices Daniel Winfree and Craig Stowers disagreed and said that was not reason enough to override the Native preference.

According to the majority opinion, the state took custody of girl identified by the pseudonym “Dawn” in 2008 when she was 4 months old. Tribal officials put the girl’s grandmother forward as a candidate to adopt the child, but an adult son who initially lived with the grandmother had a criminal history. The grandmother later said the son had moved out, but other problems such as unsecured guns and medicine in the house prevented her winning custody after the woman said she would take care of the problems, but failed to do so.

The Superior Court Judge in 2012 gave custody of the child to the Anchorage non-Native family. The tribe appealed the decision, and the Alaska Supreme Court reviewed the case.

Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said the federation’s members worried about the precedent that would be set by the higher court decision.

“This decision is a disservice to our children,” Kitka said in a statement. “The formal petition for adoption is a very complicated process that requires the assistance of a lawyer that the majority of Alaska Native families cannot easily afford.”

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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