The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) has recently been put under the spotlight due to a lawsuit involving child custody. As with other provisions meant to prevent race-related abuses, it can be difficult to know where to draw the line – for example, with various affirmative action measures, as well as the Voting Rights Act which was struck down just last month.
The ICWA was passed in 1978 to protect Native American children from getting removed from their families. This was in response to alarmingly high numbers of Indian children who were taken by both public and private agencies from their homes. A recent case has brought this provision into question.
The case involves a young child, Veronica, who was put up for adoption by her biological mother after the biological father, Dusten Brown, relinquished his parental rights via text message. Brown is a member of the Cherokee Nation, and Veronica is 1.2 percent Cherokee.
Veronica was adopted by a non-indian couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, from Charleston, South Carolina. They raised Veronica until December of 2011, when Brown took custody of her and moved her to Oklahoma. She was 27 months old.
Overturning a vast amount of precedent, the Supreme Court found that Brown did not have the right to take Veronica from her adoptive parents.
Reactions are mixed in regards to what this means for those affected by the act. The Capobiancos, understandably, are thrilled to be getting Veronica back, and expressed hope that the decision will prevent further tragic disruptions of other adoptions. The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation feels that the child’s interests would be best served by staying in a loving home with her biological father.
The executive director for California Indian legal Services, Dorothy Alther feels that the decision is devastating and strips tribes from being able to intervene in parental disputes.
Whatever the impact on future cases, everyone can probably agree that the difficulty of the decision will have the greatest impact on little Veronica – who will once again be uprooted from her home and everything she knows, to live with her first caregivers who have at this point become strangers to her.
The legal world is uncertain, and it is a valuable reminder to us all that in a country that strives for justice, court battles remain risky.