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A-C Tribe supports child custody legislation

TRIBE BACKS BILL – Members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas were in Austin last week to testify in support of a change in the Texas Family Code. Pictured above are (L-R) Tribal Chairwoman Nita Battise, State Rep. Helen Giddings, Jo Ann Battise and Arnold Battise. (Contributed Photo)TRIBE BACKS BILL – Members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas were in Austin last week to testify in support of a change in the Texas Family Code. Pictured above are (L-R) Tribal Chairwoman Nita Battise, State Rep. Helen Giddings, Jo Ann Battise and Arnold Battise. (Contributed Photo)

AUSTIN -- The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas announced its support of a bill that would add an amendment to the Texas Family Code that would place a duty on the courts to determine if a child has Native American ancestry in child custody cases.

If a child is determined to have Native American lineage, then the courts are required by the Indian Child Welfare Act to notify the respective tribe that is associated with the child or children's family.

House Bill 825 applies to cases that involve foster care placements, termination of parental rights and pre-adoptive placement or adoptive placement. It was authored by State Representative Helen Giddings (D-Dallas).

Nita Battise, chairwoman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council, testified before the Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues in support of the bill Wednesday.

"The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe wholeheartedly supports this bill. Texas family courts need to be vigilant in determining if children are protected by the Indian Child Welfare Act. Representative Giddings is a great champion for children and the Native American children of this state will be better protected if the Family Code is amended as the bill proposes," said Battise.

The Indian Child Welfare Act, passed by Congress in 1978, sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership of a federally recognized tribe. It requires a higher standard of proof to terminate parental rights, requires active efforts to prevent the breakup of Native American families and requires that placement preferences be with Native American families.

According to the Supreme Court of Texas Permanent Commission for Children, Youth and Families, many caseworkers have incomplete or incorrect data about the possibility of a child's Native American heritage and some judges are not aware of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Enacting a requirement that judges inquire about a child's Native American heritage in the Family Code, will help ensure that the protections and services required under the Indian Child Welfare Act are known to all parties and followed.

Jo Ann Battise, an Alabama-Coushatta tribal member who serves on the Supreme Court of Texas Permanent Commission for Children, Youth and Family, also testified as a resource witness. She gave the committee the historical context leading up to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

As a tribal member and former federal judge, Arnold Battise also gave testimony and support for the bill.

Beginning in 1879 and lasting until the 1950's, Native American children were routinely taken from their tribal families and enrolled in military style boarding schools, 26 nationwide, to indoctrinate them into white culture.