STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – The Native American Caucus met for a presentation of Indian law and the history of that law in Arizona and the United States on Jan. 27.
Judge Michael C. Nelson, a retired Apache County Superior Court judge, gave an overview of the history of the legal relationships between Native American nations and the state and federal governments. He cited the Constitution of the United States, the Arizona Constitution, and Supreme Court cases in the explanation of this history.
In addition to his presentation on the history of Indian relations, Judge Nelson discussed the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Indian Child Welfare Act applies to off-reservation Indian children in the state system. Representatives from the Department of Child Safety explained the process by which Indian children are placed in permanent housing.
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), commented on the importance of the Indian Child Welfare Act in keeping children with their families.
“In Indian communities, extended families have duties similar to the duties that are normally attributed to nuclear families. For example, in the Pascua Yaqui community, godparents play a special role in caring for children who have been displaced,” Gonzales said.
Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), expressed his appreciation for the presentation to the Native American Caucus.
“Judge Nelson provided us all with a greater understanding of why Indian nations are unique; why they have a unique relationship with the state and the federal governments; and why they are the only minority group in the country to have the authority to have their own lands, make their own laws, create their own governments, and govern the people within in their boundaries. Hopefully, the legislators here have gained a better understanding of the legal foundation that governs the relationship between state government and the Indian nations in the state,” Hale said.
The next Native American Caucus meeting will be held on Feb. 11, 2016. The Native American Caucus meetings are open to all legislators and to members of the public.
“The information shared at these meetings provides legislators with valuable insight into the interconnectedness of state and tribal governments,” Gonzales said.