Mother and Father, a member of the Seneca Indian Nation tribe, have Daughter together. Father works for the Seneca Indian Nation, in security for one of its casinos.
During the first year after Daughter’s birth, Mother and Father amicably address Father’s timesharing and child support privately.
In time, Mother and Father’s relationship becomes more strained and Mother files for child support through the state family court of Pennsylvania. No challenge is made to the jurisdiction of the state family court of Pennsylvania.
Later, Father files for custody of Daughter through the Seneca Nation Peacemakers Court, the Indian tribal courts.
Father makes various unsubstantiated allegations of child neglect, which are refuted by a written statement filed with the Seneca Indian nation court by Daughter’s pediatrician. Father also accuses Mother of kidnapping Daughter in the past.
The Seneca Nation Peacemakers Court then gives Father custody of Daughter … and awards Mother, Daughter’s primary caregiver until then, absolutely no visitation or timesharing. Since 2008.
Indian nation courts may exercise child custody jurisdiction over Indian nation member children.
But, under the laws of the Seneca nation, Daughter is not a member of the Seneca Indian nation, because only her father and not her mother is of Indian heritage.
And so a Seneca nation appellate court reverses a lower Seneca nation court ruling that Daughter is a “Seneca minor”.
That reversal should strip the Seneca Nation Peacemakers Court of child custody jurisdiction over Daughter.
Yet the state family court still has not exercised child custody jurisdiction over Daughter, and Mother still has no access to or contact with Daughter. Even her letters are returned to sender.
And the Seneca Nation Peacemakers Court also allows Daughter no contact with her half-sister or her maternal grandparents.
Mother’s lay advocate, a member of the Seneca Indian nation and a highly experienced lay advocate in the Seneca nation courts, contends that the Seneca nation courts have favored Father out of bias.
The case continues in the appellate courts of the Seneca Indian nation. Mother refuses to give up on having contact with Daughter.