Jacqueline Keeler in Native Condition. Discussion »
On August 12th, some 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have A Dream" speech during the March On Washington, a Cherokee father, Dusten Brown gave himself up to authorities after warrant was put out for his arrest. His crime? Wishing to be a father and to raise his daughter Veronica with her Cherokee family in Oklahoma.
Prior to the case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, I believed the reasons for the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 would be reasonable and compelling to most people in this country. The wholesale removal of children from a tribe is a story that every Indian family is familiar with, either through personal experience, or from seeing it take place in our communities. But the response from the American public from such media standards like Dr. Phil and the Today Show and in the online comments made by ordinary white Americans has been striking because it makes clear that most Americans take a historical view of the situation.
The argument posited by the Capobiancos the white, South Carolina couple who wish to adopt Veronica and their support team of PR professionals and lawyers is that ICWA sacrifices the needs of the Indian child to promote those of the tribe, often exposing the child to great harm by leaving them in the care of dangerous and violent Indian relatives. It is in this way, by pitting the helpless child against a vainglorious and ineptly-run tribal system, they have been extremely successful in persuading even moderate commentators like Anderson Cooper and Nina Totenberg of NPR to portray the Capobiancos as the wronged party, Dusten Brown as a deadbeat dad and ICWA as failed policy.
To be clear, the Supreme Court did NOT overturn ICWA, but in the court of public opinion ICWA and Indian Tribes lost a battle and that is something that we, as Indian people should take very seriously.
I have taken a closer look at two organizations that have been funneling substantial funds to the Capobiancos, These two organizations are the Christian Alliance for Indian Children and Citizens Equal Rights Alliance (CERA). I was surprised to learn that each organization had been led by Native Americans at certain points in their history. Roland Morris, a full-blood Chippewa of the Leech Lake Chippewa Tribe in Minnesota, an Upholsterer by trade with Christian Alliance and Scott Kayla Morrison, a Choctaw attorney who once led CERA (both are now deceased: Morris from cancer and Morrison, tragically, from suicide.) They both advocated greater oversight of Indian tribal governments by the Federal government and opposed tribal transfer of lands into trust, federal dollars spent in Indian country and ICWA. They were driven by the troubles they had seen in their communities and in their families (in Roland's case) and had drawn the conclusion that through alliances with both Christian and Republican party members that they could help bring about the end of the suffering on reservations.
The Christian adoption groups' websites and articles are filled with stories about the poverty and abuse of Indian children in Indian country. The Christian Alliance posted this report on its site about the Spirit Lake Nation:
Thomas Sullivan, Regional Administrator of the Administration of Children and Families in Denver, stated in his 12th Mandated Report to the ACF office in Washington DC, February 2013: 'In these 8 months I have filed detailed reports concerning all of the following: The almost 40 children returned to on-reservation placements in abusive homes, many headed by known sex offenders These children remain in the full time care and custody of sexual predators available to be raped on a daily basis. Since I filed my first report noting this situation, nothing has been done by any of you to remove these children to safe placements.'"
But the Brown family (I include the grandparents in this as they were granted guardianship by the Cherokee Nation) seems to have none of these problems. It seems odd that with so many children living in need in Indian country, that they chose this case to challenge ICWA and tribal sovereignty. And it begs the question, are all American Indian families being painted with the same brush?
posted August 29, 2013 1:30 pm edt