Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

August 20, 2013

ICWA or not, no winners in ‘Veronica’ case

TAHLEQUAH — The stories of “Baby Veronica” and George Zimmerman, who claims he shot teenager Trayvon Martin in self-defense, have two elements in common. Both cases have divided the entire country, and both outcomes are bound to leave one side grieving, outraged and bitter.

A South Carolina couple sought to adopt “Veronica” with approval of her Hispanic birth mother. The wrench in the works is the birth father, a Cherokee Nation citizen. Dusten Brown says that while he did initially relinquish his custodial rights, it was to the birth mother, and for the benefit of his child – not for adoption to an unknown couple across the country. When he learned of the plans, he sought custody, and after being rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court, turned to the Cherokee Nation.

This sad situation has been a topic of heated discussion, with few taking the middle ground. The girl has now been with Brown and his family for a year and a half, but the would-be adoptive parents are fighting back, using the muscle of the South Carolina legal system against the equally weighty interests of the tribe.

 For a disinterested third party (if one could be found), the conclusion might seem obvious: The welfare of the child should be only issue. But it’s not that simple. Some argue the girl is better off with her adoptive parents, claiming Brown’s motives aren’t pure. Those who insist the girl should stay with Brown are in two camps: Either they base their decision on the fact that he has her now, and she’s happy and healthy; or because of past tragedies involving American Indian “child-stealing,” they say Veronica has a right to be raised in the culture she shares with other Cherokees.

Though plenty of emotionally charged opinions are being rendered, most people don’t understand the intricacies, and many have fallen prey to propaganda and misleading news bites. Most of those churning out news bites haven’t a clue, either.

Many who side with the South Carolina couple don’t realize that, despite their rhetoric, Veronica was not adopted “at birth.” Adoptions are not usually final for at least six months, and a birth parent can often waylay the plans during this period. On the other hand, it’s difficult to judge Brown’s motives, or to know which of the stories circulated about him is closest to the truth. Those who paint him as a man who “abandoned” his child and changed his mind can’t prove their case. But those who say he never relinquished his rights at any time can’t be certain, either, because frankly, they’re mostly distant observers, not family friends. What does seem clear is that he opposed the adoption when he learned about it.

The law Brown is using to keep his daughter – the Indian Child Welfare Act – is also widely misunderstood. The 1978 law came about in the wake of illegal adoptions – kidnapping, in many cases – that either landed children in boarding schools or forcibly thrust them into “white society,” with no further contact with their heritage and people. Despite media reports generated by folks with questionable research skills, ICWA is not about race; it’s about tribal sovereignty. It’s less about Dusten Brown’s right as the biological father than it is about Veronica’s right to be raised within her culture.

Though ICWA doesn’t preclude adoption of Indian children into non-Indian families, it allows the tribe to determine placement. Usually this follows the family chain to nearest kin, and if that’s not feasible, the child may be placed in a non-Indian home. The key is that the tribe decides – not some “private adoption lawyer,” an out-of-state couple desperate for any child regardless of circumstances, or the media. This may seem unfair to non-Indians, but it is what it is.

ICWA aside, a valid argument can also be advanced that, since Veronica’s been living happily with her biological father for more than a year and a half, there’s no reason to uproot her again. That same point might have been raised when she was taken from the would-be adopters – but that was then, and this is now.

The South Carolina couple is in a horrible predicament, and it’s hard not to have sympathy for them, even though evidence suggests they knew the adoption was on shaky ground, and though they’re now using a reality TV star as their front man. Should these details factor in? And how much weight should Brown’s initial reactions be given? What about the adoption attorney, who obviously knew something was hinky?

The shyster may have done the “crime,” but the legal adoption system will likely serve the time. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it is this: non-Indians should tread lightly, and legally, if they’re looking to take in an Indian child. And biological parents of any stripe should think long and hard before signing anything.

1
Text Only
Editorials
  • As education, good jobs falter, violent crime rate will go up

    As April winds down, and with it Child Abuse Prevention Month, it’s worth again noting that the rate of violence in Oklahoma has been creeping up in recent years. And it’s time for our state’s top leaders – who wear blinders when it comes to anything negative – to discuss what we’re going to do about it.
    Late last year, the FBI listed Oklahoma as the 10th most dangerous state in the union, based on statistics from 2012. Violent crimes are rape, murder, robbery and aggravated assault. Some Okies might find it a bit disconcerting to learn that our state ranked above California and New York in this data. Topping the list was Tennessee, followed by Nevada, Alaska, New Mexico, South Carolina, Delaware, Louisiana, Florida and Maryland.

    April 23, 2014

  • Ban on wage hikes by municipalities a mark of hypocrisy

    The words “God” and “governor” may share the same first two letters, but the two are hardly interchangeable.
    But let’s assume Gov. Mary Fallin really isn’t deluded enough to place her powers on the level of a deity. What rationale would a woman who has championed smaller government and local control use to explain her hypocrisy in banning individual Oklahoma cities from raising minimum wages in their jurisdictions?

    April 18, 2014

  • Community cleanups a good way to ensure our collective success

    This is our community – and it’s no better than what we make it. Let’s make it look great.

    April 16, 2014

  • Attack at school in Pennsylvania: Mental illness root of problem

    Washington’s crusade against guns was dealt a severe blow on Wednesday. No, it wasn’t the Supreme Court curtailment of the Second Amendment right of all Americans to own firearms. It wasn’t an executive order handed down by the administration. It was the brutal assault by a high school student in Pennsylvania against his fellow students – with a knife.

    April 14, 2014

  • People with faulty zippers should be booted from office

    We may forgive, but we shouldn’t forget, because there’s serious work to do in Washington. That work will never be accomplished as long as flawed zippers - literally or figurately – are a pervasive problem.

    April 11, 2014

  • Do your part to fight animal and child abuse

    It’s hard to change the habits of an abuser, especially when mitigating factors – such as alcohol or drugs – are involved. And these patterns tend to repeat themselves in successive generations. But all of us can take one small step to help eradicate this epidemic, and that is to report it when we see it.

    April 9, 2014

  • NSA head lies to Congress, and seems to get away with it

    Is there an obvious pattern of criminality within these governmental agencies? If so, why isn’t the Judicial Department investigating?

    April 7, 2014

  • Pass for rich kiddie rapist proves that justice isn’t blind

    Someone in Wilmington, Del., needs to keep an eye on Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden for the next few months, because she might improve her standard of living due to a sudden influx of cash.
    There’s no other way to explain why Jurden would have sentenced an ultra-wealthy heir to the du Pont fortune to probation for raping his 3-year-old daughter. It’s an outrageous miscarriage of justice that once again proves when it comes to the U.S. justice system, the elite get a pass almost every time.

    April 4, 2014

  • Maybe it’s not $3.2B, but state should still account for tribal cash

    In an editorial published last week, the Daily Press said that through tribal compacts, the state of Oklahoma received about $3.2 billion in annual revenue, partly attributable to the 117 casinos (or 118, in some reports) run by 33 tribes in the state. The information we accessed for that piece was confusing, and had a typo or two, which may have led us to overstate – to a considerable degree – how much money the tribes actually give the state.

    April 2, 2014

  • Tribal compacts should mean state has money to perform its functions

    Oklahoma should be rolling in the dough. The statistics bear that out. Thirty-three American Indian tribes operate 117 casinos in this state. Thanks to “compacts,” these tribes have been sharing the wealth with the state of Oklahoma. And thanks to the casinos, that wealth is substantial.

    March 28, 2014

Poll

How confident are you that the immunizations for infants and children are reasonably safe?

Not at all confident.
Somewhat confident.
Relatively confident.
Extremely confident.
undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Stocks