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OK: Cherokees rally for Dusten Brown in Baby Veronica case

August 27, 2013

Tulsa World - August 27, 2013

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TAHLEQUAH - Traditionally, the tribe would dance around an open fire, the flames representing the Cherokee Nation's connection to God.

They didn't have a fire Monday evening. But the flames, a Cherokee traditionalist said, are "burning inside" Dusten Brown as he fights to keep his 3-year-old daughter in Oklahoma with the tribe.

So Brown and his wife, Robin Brown, stood in the middle as dozens of tribal members swirled around them in a traditional friendship dance during a rally at the Cherokee Nation headquarters.

Historically, the dance was performed to mark the end of a conflict and the beginning of peace, according to a traditionalist who led the ceremony.

Monday's rally was a call to end an epic custody battle over "Baby Veronica," pitting Brown and his tribe against her adoptive parents from South Carolina.

"It means a lot to my family and I - and to Veronica - that we have all the support," Dusten Brown told the crowd, with more than 100 people waving pink ribbons in honor of the girl's favorite color.

"I wish she could be here right now to see this."

Veronica spent the evening with her paternal grandparents, who have guardianship under tribal court orders.

"She's happy," Brown said. "She's a very healthy child. She is where she belongs."

With a gag order imposed by a Cherokee County judge Aug. 16, he didn't talk about the case itself or speak directly to the media.

Brown started the rally sitting in the front row, before Principal Chief Bill John Baker led him onto stage.

"This is about more than Veronica," Baker said, pledging "100 percent support to the end" for keeping the girl in Oklahoma.

"She's a Cherokee citizen, and she deserves the best that this nation can offer her - whether it's our prayers, our thoughts or our lawyers."

Tribes nationwide have seen Veronica's case as a test of tribal sovereignty and an attack on the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which gave tribes the right to intervene in adoptions.

Until that law was passed, as many as one in three Indian children were taken away from their parents, according to congressional records.

"For all Native Americans throughout the country," said former Principal Chief Joe Byrd, who now serves on the Tribal Council, "this is a fight for our people."

Monday's rally was the first public appearance for the Brown family since Aug. 16, when a court order brought Brown, his wife and his parents to the Cherokee County Courthouse.

Matt and Melanie Capobianco, Veronica's adoptive parents from South Carolina, wanted a judge to return physical custody to them.

Instead, the hearing ended with both families agreeing to try mediation in hope of reaching a compromise.

The custody battle started nearly four years ago, when "Baby" Veronica really was a baby.

The Capobiancos arranged a private adoption with Brown's ex-fiancee and came to Oklahoma for her birth in September 2009.

Veronica was in South Carolina for four months before Brown was asked to sign away his parental rights.

But he has said he was misled about the papers and thought he was only giving custody to the birth mother, not knowing she had already placed the baby for adoption.

South Carolina courts eventually ruled that Brown had not given "voluntary consent" to the adoption, and he gained custody of Veronica in December 2011.

But the Capobiancos appealed the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision this summer, the justices ruled that South Carolina had been wrong to give Brown custody under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

That decision didn't automatically give Veronica back to the Capobiancos, but it did force South Carolina to reconsider the case.

The South Carolina Supreme Court granted them custody in July. But the Brown family and the Cherokee Nation are challenging South Carolina's jurisdiction, since Veronica has lived in Oklahoma for nearly two years now.

Meanwhile, Brown has been arrested in Oklahoma on a South Carolina "custodial interference" charge for refusing to return Veronica to the Capobiancos, but he is fighting extradition to South Carolina.

Veronica will turn 4 in September.

Michael Overall 918-581-8383



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