Local Indian tribe wins battle in child custody case

News 12 First at Five / Monday, Jan. 13, 2014

ALLENDALE, S.C. (WRDW) -- An Allendale County Indian tribe, the Yamassee Nation, scored somewhat of a victory in court Monday afternoon. A family court judge determined a Philadelphia County court order demanding the tribe surrender a 2-year-old child has no legal standing in South Carolina.

Weeks ago, the Allendale County Sheriff's Office told News 12 the two-year-old girl was being harbored in the Indian community outside Allendale illegally. After obtaining the court order from Pennsylvania, the Sheriff's Office and State Law Enforcement Division carried out a raid on the reservation, however, neither the child nor Chief Sekhu Hidden Eagle Gentle were found.

The Philadelphia County court order says the child should be returned to her mother immediately. The order says the child is believed to be with its putative father, Chief Gentle of the Yamassee tribe.

On Monday, in a family court hearing, the judge determined a technical error in the court order, which rendered it worthless in South Carolina. The judge says, thus, the court order can no longer be enforced by the Allendale County Sheriff's Office.

The case was thrown out before the Chief Sekhu's attorney, Lawrence Keitt of Orangeberg, even had to argue for his client, who wasn't in attendance.

The Sheriff's Office had an outstanding warrant for Chief Sekhu's arrest and planned to arrest him if he showed for court, however, since the order was terminated, the Sheriff's Office says the warrant will be pulled and Sekhu will be removed from the NCIC database as wanted.

Attorney Keitt says if another court order is issued, he is prepared to argue Chief Sekhu's case.

"This is an American Indian child, as such, she is not subject to the laws of the State of South Carolina, pursuant to the federal statute," said Keitt, who also cited a state statute. "There's nothing more sacred to Native Americans than their children, and the child is perfectly safe."

All the while, the Sheriff's Office says the tribe is not federally recognized, and thus not a sovereign tribe that can legally take and possess children.

Keitt says they are not federally recognized, but the issue of recognition goes much deeper. The Yamassee Nation website says the tribe, instead, has judicial recognition.

"We only share that we have acknowledgment via Judicial Determination that we are Recognized in courts as a Tribe under the prescription provided, which under Recognition is one of the requirements , to have Sovereignty protected and your Rights," the website reads.

The Allendale County Sheriff's Office says it plans to contact the child's mother to she if she'd continue to pursue custody of the two-year-old. If so, the Sheriff's Office says it'll encourage her to file the order in South Carolina this time, rather than Pennsylvania.


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