This case delves deeply into the qualifications of a qualified expert witness under the 2015 BIA Guidelines. Those requirements were pretty specific, and as the court points out, prioritized cultural knowledge of the child’s tribe.
The 2015 Guidelines don’t govern cases initiated AFTER December 12, 2016, and instead the federal regulation (81 Fed. Reg. 38873; 25 CFR pt. 23.122) provides the definition and context of qualified expert witnesses. That definition (“a qualified expert witness must be qualified to testify regarding whether the child’s continued custody by the parent or or Indian custodian is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child and should be qualified to testify as to the prevailing social and cultural standards of the Indian child’s Tribe”) provides far less guidance to the court as to who can be a QEW. The regulation further states a QEW may be designated by the child’s tribe, and may not be the “social worker regularly assigned to” the child. The 2016 Guidelines now argue that specific professional knowledge might be more important than cultural knowledge. That may have been more helpful to the parent’s argument in this case.