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Tribal group urges Supreme Court to uphold Indian Child Welfare Act

April 9, 2013

By LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON World Correspondent on Apr 9, 2013

CATOOSA - Members of the National Indian Child Welfare Association on Monday asked for a federal law to be left intact as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to take up a Nowata family's case next week.

Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was awarded custody of his daughter, "Baby Veronica," in 2011 after a South Carolina couple tried to adopt her and had physical custody of her for two years.

After a South Carolina family court denied their petition because of the terms of the Indian Child Welfare Act, the prospective adoptive couple appealed the decision to the South Carolina Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments are set for April 16.

"We understand that this threat to the Brown family is a threat to all of our native families and children," association President Gil Vigil said at a news conference during the group's annual convention at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in Catoosa.

"When they try to break up one loving Indian home, we understand that this could lead to the breakup of countless others."

Passed in 1978 in response to the high percentage of Native American children unnecessarily taken from their families, the Indian Child Welfare Act allows tribes to intervene when a child who is either an enrolled tribal citizen or eligible for citizenship through at least one biological parent is put up for adoption.

Under the act, adoption placement preference is given to extended family members, members of the child's tribe and American Indian families from other tribes.

"The Indian Child Welfare Act was designed to prevent cases like this," Cherokee Nation Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Ross Nimmo said. "Had it been followed, this never would have happened. Cases like this happen when someone cuts corners or tries to go around the law."

In their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the prospective adoptive parents question the definition of a parent and whether a noncustodial parent can invoke the right to block the other parent's attempt to place a child up for adoption.

Under South Carolina law, Brown's parental rights were terminated when he did not provide financial support for the biological mother for the duration of her pregnancy or take steps to establish his paternity immediately after the child's birth.

Brown's attorneys maintain that he did not know when the child was born until he was served with adoption papers four months after her birth.

"This could easily impact other areas of Indian law in an attempt to define who is Indian and who isn't," Native American Rights Fund attorney Richard Guest said. "The adoptive couple has asked if Veronica is 'Indian enough' for ICWA to even apply.

"There is a lot at stake, and it is striking to think what a loss could mean for Indian Country."



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