The widely publicized and controversial custody case, which has been going on since 2009 when Veronica was four months old, has been heralded by some as a victory for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the Cherokee Nation, and for Veronica, who will remain with her family who have “a deeply embedded relationship” with their heritage, as the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling states.
But others have criticized the decision as destructive to the toddler and an injustice to the adoptive parents.
In a taped interview, the Capobiancos sat down with TV talk-show host Dr. Phil McGraw to share their anger and frustrations at losing Veronica and at the ICWA of 1978, which gives placement preference of adopted American Indian children first to family members, second to members of the same tribe and third to members of another tribe.
“The Child Welfare Act is destroying families,” Matt told Dr. Phil. “Veronica’s our daughter.” The couple was present in the delivery room for Veronica’s birth, and Matt cut the umbilical cord. “I just can’t put it into words how incredible it felt to have a little girl.”
Although non-native adoptive families can promise to expose children to ceremonies and culture, there is no substitute for immersion. “In the Indian community, grandparents, aunts and uncles, they all share equal responsibility for the child, and the child’s life is enriched by this,” Dorsay said.
Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, agrees that the ruling ensures Baby Veronica grows up surrounded by her culture and people and the rights and responsibilities that come with it. “I can’t say enough about the importance of a child’s rights throughout their lives,” Cross said. “These are things as simple as voting in tribal elections, running for office, taking advantage of tribal scholarships and benefits, participating in customary and ceremony rights, plus their relationships with extended families. It’s about a notion of a sense of belonging. Indian children are as tied to their extended families as they are to their parents. There’s a rich network of culture there, and that’s what we rely on for wellbeing.”
But tonight’s episode of the DR. PHIL Show paints the decision to remove Baby Veronica from the home of her adoptive parents as a heart-breaking “nightmare,” severing a young girl’s ties with the only caretakers she has ever known.
While Nimmo defends the purpose of the ICWA, she is repeatedly countered by Troy Dunn, host of the TV show The Locator, a non-native brother to an adopted American Indian man, and the person who pitched Dr. Phil to feature the story of Baby Veronica on the DR. PHIL Show.
While Nimmo is explaining the purpose of the ICWA, Dunn interrupts and alleges Veronica’s background is barely Indian.
“Have you told Dr. Phil how much of this child’s blood is actually Indian? Because I think we’re leading people to believe this is an Indian thing,” Dunn said.
“She is an Indian baby,” Nimmo replied.
“This child is more Hispanic than Indian, more white than Indian, more Asian almost than Indian,” Dunn charges. “There is like a drop of Indian blood in this child….” he said. “…[I]t’s a massive warning to any parent in America right now who’s considering adopting a child, because if there’s a drop of Indian blood in this child, this is a possibility, this event could happen to somebody else,” Dunn said. “Somebody from the tribe—not a birth parent—a tribal member can step up a make a claim, which is what drives some families into hiding.”
Nimmo clarified that the law applies to tribal citizens, not to native heritage. “It’s not about a drop of blood; this father is a citizen of the government. It’s not just if you have Indian in your background.”
That sounds like a reasonably balanced presentation of the issues. But Dr. Phil's own site presents a different picture:
Adoption Controversy: Battle over Baby Veronica
If you go by the space allotted, the Capobiancos get 8-9 paragraphs and the Cherokees get one. Then there's this assertion from Johnston, another non-Indian parent:
Saying tribal governments don't care about their children is similar to saying they're savage and uncivilized. In other words, the claim is close to being racist itself. Does Johnston seriously think a government can prevent every citizen from going homeless? How many non-Indian US governments have accomplished that...none?
For more on child welfare, see When Indians Make Bad Decisions and Why the Indian Child Welfare Act Exists.