June 26, 2013

Court thwarts ICWA in Baby Veronica case

Supreme Court Thwarts ICWA Intent in Baby Veronica Case

By Rob CapricciosoThe U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling drafted by Justice Samuel Alito, has used provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to say that a child, widely known as Baby Veronica, does not have to live with her biological Cherokee father.

"[T]he parent abandoned the Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child," Alito wrote for the majority that was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer.
Court rules for adoptive parents in Baby Veronica case

Little 'Baby Veronica' was adopted for more than two years, but an obscure law preventing the breakup of Native American families had forced her return to her father.

By Richard Wolf
A sharply divided Supreme Court sided with a 3-year-old girl's adoptive parents over the legal claim of her father Tuesday in a case that revolved around the child's 1% Cherokee blood.

In doing so, the justices expressed skepticism about a 1978 federal law that's intended to prevent the breakup of Native American families--but in this case may have created one between father and daughter that barely existed originally.

This posting sums up a key problem with the Court's ruling:

The Court’s Bizarre 1 Percent Rule

By Aura BogadoLast week, we were all reminded how little Americans understand this foundational idea about the relationship between Native peoples and the U.S. government. When the Supreme Court ruled on June 25 in a case regarding the adoption of a Cherokee baby, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the prevailing justices seemed to forget tribal sovereignty exists at all. In Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, the very first sentence read, “This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.” Through the inherent right of tribal sovereignty, the Cherokee Nation determines its own citizens. The Cherokee Nation doesn’t use the practice of blood quantum, and instead identifies its members through the use of very specific genealogical records. Therefore, the baby at question in the case is not 1 percent Cherokee; she is Cherokee.

Popular conversation about the ruling followed Alito’s lead. A headline in USA Today declared that the Supreme Court “gives 1% Cherokee girl to adoptive parents.” The obsession with classifying Natives by blood is a contemporary anomaly that society reserves rather exclusively for Natives. USA Today would have never run a headline in 2008, for example, that read, “Voters elect first 50% black President.” We’ve figured out ways to get so much right when it comes to race—but still almost unknowingly accept when so much is wrong, and fundamentally misunderstood, about tribal sovereignty.

So while it might take some time to tackle the new White House Council’s numerous goals, the language of its opening lines is notable. As I’ve written previously, many people are unaware of the distinct issues that come with being part of a federally recognized tribe in the U.S. While many people are repelled instinctively by racism when it appears in certain cultural venues—say, for example, the Washington football team’s mascot—there’s a lack of understanding among non-Natives about the unique political position that Natives hold, a position which stems from tribal sovereignty.
Comment:  The second article above was the one that had the offensive 1% headline. USA Today must've changed it after receiving a slew of complaints. But you can still tell the author's bias in the subhead about "an obscure law" and the first sentence.

For more on the subject, see Media Misreports Native Adoption and ICWA Prevents Child Kidnapping.

Below:  "Dusten Brown, Cherokee, reads to daughter Veronica at their home in Nowata, Oklahoma."

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