February 2015                                                               Volume 1, Number 1

Indian Child Welfare Act Experts
Who does CILS represent? We represent YOU, the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe.

The goal of CILS in the area of Indian child welfare is to increase compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and related state laws, is to ensure that regardless of their eventual placement, Indian children to maintain important ties to their tribal communities. CILS' success in ICWA matters directly affects the placement environments and cultural connections of hundreds of Indian children living in California. CILS represents both in-state and out-of-state tribes in California court proceedings, including dependency, delinquency, and probate guardianship matters involving Indian children. When the ICWA applies to these types of cases, CILS' experience and knowledge makes us an expert in ensuring compliance with the ICWA and applicable state laws.

CILS routinely intervenes on behalf of its tribal clients and actively works with social workers and legal counsel for the other parties to keep Indian families together. Many tribes rely on their tribal ICWA worker to represent their interests in state court. While such practice is common it is not always ideal, since formal legal representation best practice is to be represented by trained and licensed legal professionals who can afford tribes all the protections of the attorney-client relationship. Attorneys, unlike tribal social workers, can protect tribal statements with attorney/client confidentiality and cannot be called as a witness against the tribe.

With four offices strategically located throughout California, CILS acts as an effective advocate in court working with social service agencies and encouraging family reunification and cultural preservation.

Why Should Tribes Participate in ICWA Cases?

If the tribe acknowledges the child as a member or eligible for membership, all of ICWA's substantive requirements apply even if the tribe does not intervene. The tribe must be consulted with respect to the placement of the child and case planning for both the Indian parents and the Indian child. Case plans must use the available resources of the tribe, extended family members, other Indian service agencies and individual Indian caregivers.

The greatest resource to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes is their children.

CILS ICWA Benchguide

CILS published a "California Judges Benchguide" as an invaluable resource for judges who deal with cases implicating the ICWA and SB 678, a state law that provides for heightened protections for Indian children beyond the federal ICWA. CILS participation in training sessions, work groups, county tribal alliance, roundtables and the development and distribution of the ICWA Benchguide has facilitated increased understanding of and compliance with the ICWA across California.

Get your FREE copy of the ICWA Benchguide here:

Serving California Indian Communities

CILS offers trainings and outreach to our clients and community members. From wills & estate planning presentations to Indian Child Welfare Act trainings, CILS offices empower individuals and tribes to help themselves. CILS issues tribal alerts on new federal and state legislation, regulatory changes, and court cases that impact tribes and tribal communities. CILS also sponsors and participates in statewide conferences on the Indian Child Welfare Act, Public Law 280, tribal law enforcement, and tribal court development.


of American Indians
and Alaska Natives
live outside of their
Native Lands




CILS is one of the oldest not-for-profit law firms devoted exclusively to the cause of Native American rights. Governed by a Board of Trustees endorsed by California tribes and tribal organizations, CILS has provided free and low-cost legal services to California tribes, tribal organizations, and Native American individuals throughout the State since 1967.


CILS is proud of our many important achievements over the last four decades, including significant Supreme Court and legislative victories in the areas of Indian child welfare and cultural resource protection, securing federal recognition for dozens of California tribes, hosting numerous statewide conferences on Indian law issues, and the successful resolution of thousands of legal issues for Indian individuals, families, tribes, and native organizations.

Providing representation in cases that involve issues unique to Native Americans.

These include:

  • Individual trust allotments
  • Will drafting and probate of Indian land/trust assets
  • Indian students' rights
  • Civil rights related to race or Indian religion
  • Indian income-related tax benefits and exemptions
  • Tribal representation in  Indian Child Welfare Act cases
  • Tribal customary adoption
  • Eligibility of Indians for special benefits programs



"The Tohono O'odham Nation in southern Arizona has utilized the legal services of CILS in Indian child welfare matters for more than 20 years. In our experience CILS provides expert legal services, and we appreciate the knowledge and experience that CILS brings to its work."  


Dr. Ned Norris, Jr., Chairman

Did You Know

CILS is part of a core safety net for Indian individuals and families. CILS' legal services are far reaching and include assisting tribes with the establishment of Tribal TANF programs, securing Indian allotments for alottees' children, preventing illegal state taxation of Indian members' income, and securing federal benefits.

When you support CILS, you support tribal self-determination, self-empowerment and justice.

CILS' victories and accomplishments in Indian Country are only possible with your generous support.

We encourage you to support our Indian legal advocacy efforts.

California Indian Legal Services

609 S. Escondido Blvd.
Escondido, CA 92025

Phone (760) 746-8941
Fax (760) 746-1815



Our mission is to protect and advance Indian rights, foster Indian self-determination, and facilitate tribal nation-building.

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