Nielson v. Ketchum

One day after giving birth, the 17-year-old mother appeared in Utah state court to relinquish parental rights and consent to adoption. Although the mother's mother is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, the court determined that the mother was not a member and that the baby was not subject to the 10-day wait for consent to adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901. The federal district court held that the baby was a member of the tribe and that the Act applied, but did not vacate the adoption. The Tenth Circuit reversed. While the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act provides that "every newborn child who is a Direct Descendant of an Original Enrollee shall be automatically admitted as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation" for 240 days after birth and there was evidence that the baby is a direct descendant, the Citizenship Act does not govern application of ICWA. ICWA defines an Indian child as having a parent who is a tribe member.