Dec 192012
 

As demonstrated by the “Save Veronica” case, this REAL War on Women comes in the form of the Cherokee Nation’s affirmation that single mothers of all heritages must fear tribal interference if they give a child up for adoption without knowing for certain whether the birth father has even a single drop of Cherokee blood.

During the Thursday, October 18, 2012 segment of the Dr. Phil show, Cherokee Nation attorney Chrissi Nimmo refused to admit Veronica had only a drop of Cherokee blood, but she also didn’t deny it. She did not answer this question because she is well aware of the implications…she knows people will be stunned at the realization. Instead, Ms. Nimmo tried to make the argument that the issue is not about blood quantum or how a child looks, but that they have a right to be part of the Cherokee tribe. The real issue is the fact that with the help of the ICWAthis “right” is being forced on not only this child, but also many children and families all across the U.S.

This argument, and the law, ignores many basic Constitutional rights. Not all enrollable individuals WANT their children to be forced into political affiliation with tribal government, and not all enrollable or enrolled parents want their children to be raised on or near a reservation. In fact, manyenrolled fami-
lies have purposefully made a choice to raise their children outside the reservation. Is it the tribe’s right, or the individual parent’s right to choose where to live and raise their children?

The following example illustrates how the ICWA is negatively affecting the
decisions and rights of enrolled tribal members. At a home for unwed mothers in Bismarck, South Dakota, several enrolled women told State Representative Lee Kaldor that even though they wanted to give their babies up for adoption, they were afraid that tribal government would interfere. Although they honestly didn’t feel they were able to properly raise and nurture their babies, they decided against adoption because they wouldn’t have the right to make decisions on behalf of their unborn babies. With adoption not an option, some of them contemplated abortion.

Interestingly enough, tribal governments don’t interfere in a mother’s decision to have an abortion, but they are increasingly interfering in the rights of a mother tochoose adoption, and placement of their children.

Ms. Nimmo’s argument also ignores the rights of the Latino birth mother in question, and ANYmother of any race who chooses adoption for their child. While it’s bad enough that enrolled Indian mothers don’t feel a freedom of choice in deciding what is best for their children, the Veronica case illustrates how a Hispanic mother, who was carrying a child with only a tiny percentage of
tribal heritage, had her rights and wishes superseded by a tribal government.

What a nightmare for any pregnant single mother contemplating adoption—a minute amount of known, or potentially unknown, Indian heritage gives a tribal government the legal right to interfere.

A further example of how the ICWA is negatively affecting women’s rights is the increasing trend of tribal governments moving to exercise their right to adjudicate in custody hearings.  Because of the ICWA, a tribe has the right to have representation at all custody hearings involving offspring of children of enrolled members, even if the child is not enrolled, or only has a small
percentage of Native blood. In many cases, the custody hearings are required to be held in tribal court, even at some distance from where the child is currently residing. The non-Indian parent is stripped of their rights to an unbiased hearing because they are not permitted access to council of
their choice. In at least one case, a non-Indian mother was threatened with bodily harm by the tribal judge and police, and by order of the judge, her young daughter taken from her and placed with an abusive father.

Congress passed the ICWA in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent of Congress under the ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families” (25 U.S.C. § 1902). ICWA sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a
member of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized tribe.
The real question now is whether the ICWA is really working to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families,” or whether the law is being abused to protect ONLY the best interest of tribes, and in doing so is denying both children and adults equal protection and representation as provided under the U.S. Constitution.

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