PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A federal law that says one state must honor another state’s child-custody order doesn’t apply to American Indian tribes, according to a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange of South Dakota issued the ruling this week in a case involving two North Dakota fathers of children whose mother has taken them to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Judge Lange said the 1980 law, known as the Parental Kidnapping Protection Act, applies to states and territories and he found that an Indian tribe isn’t either one.

The decision is subject to appeal.

“When reviewing the PKPA alongside of other contemporary full faith and credit statutes,
it appears that Congress views a ‘territory or possession of the United States’ as distinct from an
Indian tribe. While it might have better served Congress’s purposes to extend the PKPA to tribes.
Congress did not write a definition of ‘state’ in the PKPA broadly enough to apply to Indian
Tribes,” Lange wrote in the May 11, 2022, decision.

He continued, “This court recognizes that this interpretation of the PKPA does not prevent ‘jurisdictional
competition and conflict between [sjtate’ and tribal courts over child custody orders. This court likewise is heartsick that the ambiguity and split of authority over interpretation of the PKPA has contributed to the prolonged litigation in various courts over custody of C.S.N. and T.R.S. Nonetheless, this court is bound to interpret and apply the PKPA as it is written, not as how it might or arguably should have been written. Congress can amend the PKPA if it wishes to extend it to Indian tribes.”