Indian Child Welfare - Homes for Cherokee Kids

Contact CN ICW

Phone: 918-458-6900



Tribal/State Custody:

1. Question: How do I know who my worker will be?

Answer: Workers are assigned within two weeks of the tribe receiving notification of the proceeding. You can call the Tahlequah office at 1-918-458-6900 to request the name of the worker assigned.

2. Question: I am a relative of a child in custody and would like to be considered for placement, what do I do?

Answer: If you know the name of the worker assigned you may contact Indian Child Welfare at 918-458-6900 and request personal contact with that worker. If you do not know the name of the worker or have any difficulty in contacting or making connection you may either leave your information with the receptionist and/or email us at The information needed will include your:

· Name

· Address

· Telephone number and hours available at this number

· Relationship to the child

· Name of the child or children in question The worker will contact you within two weeks. If this does not occur please call the number listed above and ask for a program manager.


3. Question: Is the tribal worker going to represent what I, as the parent, want in court?

Answer: Not necessarily. The tribe will represent what is in the child's best interest, which may or may not coincide with the parent's wishes. While ensuring the child's well being, we will also work to ensure the legal rights of the parents are protected. These legal rights will include assistance in finding the services ordered by the court, visitation rights with your child, court assignment of an attorney if you cannot afford one and other provisions allowed under the federal and state laws.

4. Question: Will the tribe pay for my attorney?

Answer: No. The tribe does not provide this service. However, if you are entitled by law to receive a court appointed attorney Cherokee Nation will advocate for this legal entitlement.

5. Question: Why is the tribe intervening in my child's case?

Answer: First of all, the federal law is very specific about the right of the tribe to intervene in any state court proceeding* concerning one of their children. If the child in question is a Cherokee child, then Cherokee Nation can intervene under federal law to provide an additional layer of protection for the child's safety and well being.
Second, Cherokee Nation considers our tribal children to be a part of the larger tribal family and as such deserve any protections that we can secure.

*Exceptions for tribal intervention: 1) Delinquent child matters and 2) divorce custody proceedings where the court is not seeking third party placement for the child.

Legal Reference: 25 U.S.C. #sect# 1911 Indian tribe jurisdiction over Indian child custody proceedings

6. Question: What differences are there between tribal court cases and state custody cases? Is there an advantage to transferring the case to tribal court?

Answer: When a Cherokee child is in the state court system the state has primary decision-making power while Cherokee Nation has concurrent jurisdiction. Concurrent jurisdiction means Cherokee Nation is allowed to intervene in the state court matter and present evidence, file reports and affect case outcomes to comport with federal law. Cherokee Nation also has the right to request transfer of the case in its entirety to the tribal system. Having a case in tribal court means Cherokee Nation has exclusive jurisdiction over the entire case and no state system has the power to influence decision outcomes. It is not always an advantage to transfer state matters to tribal court. Only the parties involved in a specific court matter can determine whether or not it would be an advantage to transfer a state case to tribal court. Even if a parent or other interested party makes a request in the state system to transfer jurisdiction and the state system agrees with transfer, the tribal court can still deny transfer requests. Such denial from the tribal court is binding and the state system must maintain jurisdiction.

7. Question: In state custody matters are Cherokee Nation and the state social services agency always in agreement? If not what happens?

Answer: No. When these two agencies are in disagreement on any issue about the case, the disagreement must be settled in court by the judge presiding over the matter. Both agencies will present their opinions in writing to the judge as well as making verbal statements to verify their particular position. After hearing both sides the judge will make the final decision.

8. Question: Does Cherokee Nation stay in a case from intervention until the state dismisses?

Answer: Yes. The exception is where children have been returned to their biological parents and the state keeps the case open for monitoring purposes only. Cherokee Nation closes this type of case 30 days after the children have been returned to their parents and will not open it again unless the children are removed again. The state may keep such a case open as long as a year.

Since You Asked...

1. Question: My parental rights were terminated; can I get my child back?

Answer: The answer to this question is generally no, however, there might be extenuating circumstances to be considered. The best answer is to check with an attorney if you think your parental rights were terminated illegally. However, if your child has been adopted and that adoption has been finalized for two years you will not be able to change that adoption status regardless of any extenuating circumstances.

2. Question: We have a child in state custody with blond hair and blue eyes; do we still have to notify the tribe?

Answer: Yes, if that child or the family of that child claim Indian heritage you are responsible under federal law to notify the tribe of the court proceedings. The law states that the party seeking the foster care placement of, or termination of parental rights to, an Indian child shall notify the tribe. This could be the court, attorney, private agency or state agency who is seeking placement action in an Indian child custody proceeding.

According to law, notice must be sent by registered mail with return receipt requested, of the pending proceeding and of the tribe's right to intervene. This method would guarantee compliance with federal law and would not create a situation for appeal due to lack of proper notice.

Cherokee Nation is interested in timely notification so that we can be involved from the beginning of the case. This helps to ensure that all steps are done according to law. Cherokee Nation has accepted notice through fax communication and will continue to do so as long as this assists the court in more timely notice. Our fax number is 918-458-6146. We would suggest you follow-up by sending notice according to established ICWA standards. Our choice to accept faxed information is strictly to assist courts in meeting time constraints and in no way indicates that the federal law should not be followed or that any other tribe would choose to do the same.

The notice must contain:

1. Name and date of birth for the child;

2. Name and date of birth for the natural parents including maiden name of mother;

3. Names and dates of birth for any known direct ancestors such as grandparents and great-grandparents including maiden names of females;

4. A copy of the petition, complaint or other document by which this proceeding was initiated;

5. Names, addresses and telephone numbers of attorneys involved in the action;

6. Name of the judge presiding over the matter and the address of the court where the matter is to be heard:

7. Name, address and telephone number of any state or private social worker involved in the proceeding;

8. Notice of dates and times and location of the scheduled legal proceeding;

9. Statement of the biological parents or Indian custodians, and the Indian tribe to (a) intervene in the proceeding, (b) to petition the court to transfer the proceeding to the tribal court of the Indian child, and (c) to request an additional twenty (20) days from receipt of notice to prepare for the proceeding.

Without this information there will be delays in processing the children to determine eligibility for tribal membership and return notification to the party needing such information to proceed legally. Cherokee Nation receives approximately 700 such requests each month and we average about two to three weeks from the time of receiving your notice until you get a reply. Any missing information from you only delays that process. Please help us help you.

Legal Reference: 25 U.S.C. #sect# 1912 (a) Notice

3. Question: Is there a ceremony for a non-Indian to be adopted into the tribe?

Answer: No. The only way to be a tribal member for Cherokee Nation is to prove your direct heritage to a tribally recognized member. Our registration department can help you with this process. You may contact the registration department with your questions at

4. Question: My child is in the custody of the state because he/she broke the law; can Cherokee Nation become involved?

Answer: No. Federal law does not make provision for the tribe to intervene in a criminal action committed on state land, even when committed by a child.

5. Question: I am an attorney and am sending a waiver. Would the tribe sign this waiver and agree to not being involved in the case?

Answer: No. Cherokee Nation will not waive any rights in matters that involve our children.

6. Question: If a child is in the custody of the tribe or the state and has relatives that are both Indian and non-Indian, do the Indian relatives get placement preference?

Answer: No. While placement with family is the first consideration for the child, the family member chosen for placement will be the one best qualified to meet the individual needs of the child regardless of heritage.

7. Question: When an Indian child is in the state system but not Cherokee can the Cherokee Nation intervene and work the case?

Answer: No. The child involved must be a member or eligible for tribal membership with the Cherokee Nation before the law would allow us to become involved. Each tribe is entitled to take care of the children belonging to their individual tribes regardless of the location.

8. Question: Are there ever exceptions made to place a Cherokee child in a non-relative, non-Indian home?

Answer: Only in extreme circumstances will such an exception be made. If the extreme special needs of the child require care that cannot be obtained from an Indian resource, non-relative, non-Indian families might be used. If such a family can meet the special resource needs of the child and the search for Indian placement would cause a delay in placement that would be detrimental to the child this exception could be made.