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7/21/14 KNBA News - Alaska's highest court rules in favor of tribal court in jurisdictional case

As APRN's Lori Townsend reports, the Alaska Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday (July 18, 2014) in a long-running tribal court jurisdiction case. The case stems from a Minto tribal court decision that terminated parental rights. The father, Edward Parks, was not a Minto tribal member, so he claimed the court did not have authority over him. Also, he said, the tribal court did not allow his attorney to make an oral presentation of his argument. He tried to take the case to state court and bypass the tribal appeal process.

Native American Rights Fund attorney Natalie Landreth, who represented the adoptive parents in the case,  says the Alaska Supreme Court ruling clarified two legal issues. The first is that a plaintiff must exhaust the appeal process in tribal court before taking a challenge to state court. The second clarification, she says, is that the court didn't adopted the state's position that tribal courts have to use the same procedures as state courts. Also, Landreth says the court ruled if a child is a tribal member, the tribal court has jurisdiction over non-tribal members who are parties to the case.

Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty says the court decided the case on the fairly narrow grounds that Parks had not exhausted his tribal court remedies. Geraghty says the question of whether tribal courts have jurisdiction over non-tribal members was not decided. When asked why the state intervened in the case, he says when an Alaskan citizen goes to court claiming his or her Constitutional rights to due process have been trampled or not observed, the state takes an interest.