Become a Signatory to Abbigail A. Amicus Brief

CILS has drafted an amicus brief for an ICWA case currently before the California Supreme Court, In re Abbigail A. This case involves the question of whether a county social services agency has an obligation to assist in the enrollment of a child who is eligible for enrollment but whose parent is not enrolled.

Also at issue in this case is whether it is proper for the court to proceed as if the child is an “Indian child” where the formal definition of “Indian child” is not met, but where it is likely that the child will be an “Indian child” if the Agency provides enrollment assistance. Our brief argues that assistance in enrolling a child is an affirmative obligation of the Agency. Our brief also argues that it is proper to apply ICWA in cases where it is likely that the child will be enrolled once the administrative/bureaucratic process is complete, even where the child does not currently meet the definition of an “Indian child.”

A number of California tribes have previously expressed an interest in becoming a signatory to this brief. Tribes may do so by having an authorized tribal representative fax or email CILS at: (707) 443-8913 or In order to submit the brief to the Court on time, ALL RESPONSIVE FAXES OR EMAILS MUST BE RECEIVED BY 9:00 AM ON FRIDAY, MAY 1ST.

Click here to view appeal on Turtle Talk

California Appeals Court Finds Court Rules about Indian Children Inconsistent with Legislative Intent

The children were eligible for membership at Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. The trial court ordered DHHS to help enroll the children as active efforts. DHHS appealed. The appellate court found that both ICWA and California state law limited the definition of Indian child (member, or bio child of a member and eligible), and if the children did not fit in that definition, the laws did not apply. As such, the rules were beyond the scope of the Judicial Counsel to pass.

If you have additional questions call or email Laura Svoboda at our Eureka office: (707) 443-8397 or

California Indian Legal Services Announces New Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Project

California Indian Legal Services (CILS) and our partner, Strong Hearted Native Women’s Coalition (SHNWC), will provide holistic, comprehensive, culturally appropriate advocacy and legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking in San Diego County. CILS and SHNWC’s VAWA Project is funded through a $500,000, three year grant for Legal Assistance for Victims (LAV) from the U. S. Department of Justice.

Through this project, CILS is able to provide victims with a safety plan, crisis intervention assistance, a danger assessment, or assistance in obtaining restraining orders. The goal and objective of the grant is to provide the victims with permanent protection and long term legal relief in the areas of a divorce, child custody and visitation, division of community property and child and spousal support.

This program will serve survivors of domestic violence from San Diego County, the nine Native American reservations in North San Diego County (Rincon, Pauma, Mesa Grande, Santa Ysabel, La Jolla, San Pasqual, Los Coyotes, Pala, and Inaja/Cosmit) as well as surrounding communities. Through our Native American domestic violence and sexual assault shelter the number of reservations served has increased to all 18 reservations in San Diego County (the highest number of reservations in a single county in the U.S.)

California Indian Legal Services is proud to announce and welcome two new staff members under the VAWA Project. Our new Domestic Violence Advocate is Yvette Morales, who brings three years of advocacy experience to CILS. Susan Platt Dalati will serve as the VAWA Project’s Domestic Violence Attorney. Ms. Dalati has represented individuals in domestic violence and family law cases for over twenty seven years. Both Ms. Dalati and Ms. Morales come to us from North County Family Violence Prevention Center.

We are pleased to have Yvette and Susan on board, and look forward to a productive future meeting the needs of the community.

Click here for a .pdf version of this News Release

Bishop Paiute Tribes Sues Inyo County for Prosecuting Tribal Police Officer

On Friday March 6, 2015, on behalf of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, California Indian Legal Services filed a complaint in the California Eastern District Federal Court against Inyo County, its Sheriff and District Attorney.

The complaint seeks a declaration that defendants’ actions of arresting and criminally charging a Tribal Police Officer for carrying out his official duties interferes with the Tribe’s sovereign inherent authority to operate a police department and maintain peace and security on its Reservation. The Tribe also seeks to enjoin the defendants from taking such actions in the future.

Click here to view complaint on Turtle Talk

An excerpt:

This action is for declaratory and injunctive relief by the Bishop Paiute Tribe (“Tribe”), a federally recognized Indian Tribe, against Inyo County, the Inyo County’s Sheriff and District Attorney, for the arrest and prosecution of a Bishop tribal law enforcement officer for performing his duties on the Tribe’s Reservation. The Tribe seeks an order declaring that Defendants are interfering with the Tribe’s inherent sovereign authority to take action, defined by federal law, against non-Indians perpetrators on tribal lands. Federal law establishes that tribes have inherent authority over non-Indians on tribal lands to stop, restrain, detain, investigate violations of tribal, state and federal laws, and deliver or transport the non-Indian to the proper authorities. Duro v. Reina, 495 U.S. 676 (1990), Ortiz-Barraza v. United States, 512 F. 2d 1176 (9 th Cir. 1975). Defendants have arrested, and criminally charged, Daniel Johnson, a duly authorized Bishop tribal law enforcement officer, while he was executing federal prescribed police duties against a non-Indian, on the Tribe’s Federal Reservation.

Click here to view news article about complaint

In Memoriam

CILS wishes to express condolences to CILS Board member Hilary Renick whose father, Patrick Dorn Renick, entered into rest on February 23, 2015. Please visit the full obituary for details as to services and condolences for the family.

CILS’s Dorothy Alther to receive Outstanding Achievement in California Indian Law Award from California Indian Law Association

Ms. Alther will be honored with an Outstanding Achievement in California Indian Law Award from the California Indian Law Association (CILA). For the first time ever, the California Indian Law Association will be honoring a legal professional who has made significant contributions to California Indian law.

Dorothy Alther has been an attorney with California Indian Legal Services (CILS) since 1989 and has practiced Indian law since 1985. Ms. Alther was in the Bishop CILS Office until she relocated to the Escondido Office in 2003. Her current work focuses on tribal issues including environmental law, housing law, tribal ordinance development, and land acquisition. She serves as legal counsel for several Tribes and tribal entities and has worked on tribal court and law enforcement development and a variety of other tribal matters. Ms. Alther has been a trainer on Public Law 280, the Indian Child Welfare Act, housing law, civil and criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country, tribal law enforcement and the Tribal Law and Order Act. Dorothy is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and graduated from University of South Dakota and earned her J.D. from Northeastern University. Ms. Alther served as Managing Attorney at DNA’s People’s Legal Services in Crownpoint, New Mexico prior to coming to CILS and has acted as Tribal Attorney for the Suquamish Tribe in Washington. Ms. Alther is also the recipient of the national 2010 Pierce Hickerson Award which is granted to distinguished Indian legal services attorneys.

“I am deeply honored for this recognition from my colleagues. I have had the privilege to work with so many outstanding California Indian lawyers and to be selected as one of them means so much to me. I will continue to strive to do the best I can for California tribes and native people in order to live up to this prestige award,” said Dorothy Alther, Executive Director of CILS.

Dorothy CILASome of Dorothy’s most notable legal work has been at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. On behalf of the Los Coyotes Band of Cupeno and Cahuilla Indians, CILS challenged the Bureau of Indian Affairs lack of funding for tribal law enforcement under the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act. Currently, on behalf of the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee, CILS is protecting, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Kumeyaay tribes’ right to repatriation of Native America human remains estimated to be 9000 years old.

When Ms. Alther was asked about her success in practicing Indian law, she said, “I have some basic rules. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Learn to listen and be respectful of your client’s culture, customs and traditions.”

Hon. Christine Williams, Chief Judge for the Shingle Springs Band Of Miwok Indians Tribal Court and 2013-2014 CILA President said, “On behalf of the Board of Directors of the California Indian Law Association, it is with deep admiration that we recognize Dorothy Alther for all of her great contributions to California Indian Law, with the inaugural ‘Outstanding Achievement in California Indian Law Award.’ We could not think of a more deserving candidate and we are honored she has accepted the award.”

The 14th Annual California Indian Law Gala will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct 16, 2014, followed by the 14th Annual California Indian Law Conference from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014, at the Pechanga Resort & Casino, Temecula. Dorothy’s career long commitment to Indian law will be highlighted at an awards ceremony at the Gala and Dorothy will also be presenting on the Topic of “The Ethics of Representing Tribes” the following day at the Conference. For the full agenda and details visit the CILA website:

California Indian Legal Services is the largest non-profit Indian law firm in California with four offices statewide and has been in operation for 45 years. CILS represents California Tribes, tribal organizations, and low-income individuals on matters of Indian law.

Further information:

Nicole Scott

Director of Marketing and Development

California Indian Legal Services

T: (760) 746-8941

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