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Child custody case involves Indian tribe

Family law cases can be emotional, typically involving fathers, daughters, mothers, and sons. They can also involve a wide variety of different legal issues, including ones affected by cultural, jurisdiction, and procedural issues. The cultural aspects in particular are at the forefront in an Allendale child custody case.

The case on an American Indian girl, who is 2 years old. She is understood to be with her father, the Yamassee tribe's Chief Sekhu Hiddle Eagle Gentle. Police had contended that the father, Chief Gentle, did not have a legal right to have his daughter reside on the tribe's reservation. Correspondingly, they secured a court order in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. That order says that the child should be returned to her mother, who does not live on the reservation.

Based on the order, the State Law Enforcement Division and the Sheriff's Office issued a warrant for the arrest of the father and a raid on the reservation to take the daughter. However, they did not find Chief Gentle or his daughter. The tribe says that there is no legal basis for these actions by law enforcement authorities, since the tribe has judicial recognition and is thus sovereign. If so, their sovereignty could be viewed as superseding the decisions of the state government. There is dispute about the tribe's sovereignty, since they are not federally recognized.

The Pennsylvania court order was deemed worthless in South Carolina, and the mother has been advised that if she wants to pursue custody she'll need to do so through South Carolina courts. A representative of the Chief says that he is ready to argue the case, since the Chief clearly wants to raise his daughter. Anyone in Illinois who faces child custody issues, whether they involve cultural matters or not, may wish to partner with a qualified attorney.

Source:, "Local Indian tribe wins battle in child custody case" Chad Mills, Jan. 13, 2014

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