Enrolled mother questions ICWA jurisdiction


August 19 , 2007

To Whom It May Concern,
I know that your organization is not an attorney service, but I have been looking for someone who might be able to answer some questions and maybe give even just a glance of hope.

I am a single mother, enrolled in the Ute Tribe.  I have one child. …  My questions are if I were to get sick or hurt to the point of not being capable of taking care of my child do I myself have the right to choose a non-tribal guardian?  Or if I have a legal Will stating my wishes for my child how assured can I be that my Will will be respected?  My child and I have never taken residence on our reservation, but we do have contact with my family who do.  We do participate in traditions and my child does know who she is.  I have taken her several times to visit her paternal grandfather and aunt.

We see the father in public places but he does not acknowledge her at all.  It is my fear that if, God forbid, something happens to me. my  daughter will be torn away from her “white” family, because of the Indian Child Welfare Act.  I do understand the importance of the ICWA.  …from my studies it is repeated several times that children who are taken from their culture and traditions turn to drugs, alcohol, suicide, etc.  But I know for a fact that would happen to my daughter if she is taken from the world and people she has always known.  The family she has always and ever known do not care whether she is brown, purple, black, blue, yellow, orange or red.  They love her and have always respected her heritage and culture.  She does not know of the drug, alcohol, and violence that takes place on our reservation.  It is not part of her life.  And I do not want it to ever be.  I have taken care of all my childs needs from day one. Not because I have to but because I love her and want her to have a good life.  Please tell me, what are my options?  Do I have any?  Thank you for your time.

. Lisa, thank you so much for responding so quickly.  You are in the same position I am.
I do have one more question.  Is it true that, while there is reason to worry about Indian children loosing heritage and  culture, that if a child is placed in a none indian home the Tribe would lose money.  In the end isn’t this all about money and enrollment numbers?  To me this is unfair and hard to live with not ever knowing what will happen.  People that I love and who love my child are willing to take my daughter into their lives and raise her as their own.  And the only thing that is holding back the security and wellbeing of my child is because of the color of a persons skin and how their ancestors might have lived hundreds of years ago?  Don’t get me wrong I love my heritage.  When people ask if I’m Mexican I am proud to answer “NO! I am American Indian”.  I know you have probably already felt this discouragement, but is there nothing I can do?  What if I myself, even being an adult, am adopted to a non-indian family will that put in any type of loop hole?  I know I would give up any Indian services I am entitled to now, but I am willing to do that.  I am not about money.  This child.  My daughter is the reason I get up every morning.  The reason I am who I am today.  The ONLY reason why I try harder when things get tough.  And this one single law passed by people who don’t have any clue she even exists is going to make a decision on her future?  I am VERY interested on knowing how I can help. 

…I understand that you are not an attorney, but you have no idea how much you have helped me understand where I stand.  I knew before, but see clearer NOW what we are up against.
Well what about me?  Wouldn’t the extended family by law be my adopted parents?  Would that give someone else more power?  Wouldn’t they have to be considered for guardianship?  That would have to change something, right?  Or am I just wishing!  Sorry for all these question, but thank you so much for your help.
What specific dates are you leaving for Washington DC?  If I am unable to go I would be ever so grateful for you to carry my letter.  

UPDATE August 25, 2007

I regrettably will not be able to join in person, but at this time I am working on a letter.  Please would you mind taking it for me.  If I may ask a question?  I am stuck.  I have never written a letter like this before.  I feel it is  VERY important to have everything that needs to be said.   What type of concerns should I write about?  While emotions run like a river, there is more that needs to be added.  Thank you.

UPDATE August 28, 2007

To Whom It May Concern,
My name is ————————–.  I am an enrolled memeber of the ———- Indian Tribe, which is located on the the ———- reservation——–.  I am writing to you with matters concerning the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  In my studies I have come to understand the purpose of this law and do respect the good intentions.  I applaud the hard work of those that are preserving our heritage.  Our ways.  The good the ICWA is accomplishing.  But I do not understand how a “just” law could take away my rights as a mother.  My rights to write a Will with decisions based on my sole descretion and know that the Will will be honored above all laws.  Why must we, especially as American Indians live with fear that our children, our lives are controlled by one law?  Why must I plea for my rights?
I am a single mother.  My little girls father, who is also an enrolled member, fought me for a whole year in Tribal Courts during the processes of getting her enrolled in the Tribe.  He has never followed through on his court ordered child support or lawyer fees and contempts.  He requested supervised visitations, but has not called for the past 2 years.  He sees her in public places but does not acknowledge her.  According to the ICWA, if something were to happen to me, this man can take my little girl away from everyone who loves her.  We can not make anyone be a parent and he has made it clear time and time again that he does not care.  I have been with my daughter from day one.  I live every day for her.  I work hard at an honest job to provide for her.  Why?  Because I love her.
I am raising my beautiful daughter to love and be proud of who she is.  I am teaching her that NOTHING and NO ONE can take that away from her.  So, why am I being made to feel the only way a person can be Indian with a heritage and a hope of culture, is by living on the reservation, recieving money and calling ONLY Indian people family, there is something terribly wrong.  Not only with a law that denies a mother the right to make choices for her child’s future, but to stretch the ICWA so far as to take complete control to keep a child within the tribe.  She is an enrolled member of a recognized tribe, yes, but she is also my daughter.
How far will this law go to amend a wrong doing to make it right?  By this law a father who has proven that he does not care, has rights over people who love and have unconditionally supported a child her whole life.  By this law because of the color of ones skin and ancestory a person is not allowed to adopt an Indian child they love, unless they grovel and financially ruin their lives.  By this law enrollment numbers are more important than the well-being of a child. By this law a good mother, Indian or not, does not have any rights to protect her children if something, God forbid, happens to her.  By this law a legal Will read in court will not be respected and upheld.  By this law we are free American Indians, but are bound by our own law.
If I am wrong I apologize, but sadly I have see this all my life.  It isn’t about preserving a heritage or protecting “Indian Children”.  It’s about numbers, financial, enrollment and power. Using the one thing that a person will do whatever it takes to protect is shameful.  My child is not a game piece.  She is a human being that has every right to be loved and kept safe.  If she scrapes her knee, she will bleed.  If she falls off her bike, she will cry.  If she loses peopleshe loves her heart and spirit will break.
Why am I fighting this so hard?  Because I want my child to be safe.  Drug and alcohol andviolence do take place in every community all over the world, but only ignorance can deny that it does play a huge role on the reservations.  How do I know this?  I was a child raised in a white home.  I called a white woman “mom” and a white man “dad”.  For a time I went to a white school.  I had white friends.  White siblings.  But I always knew who I was.  I was often told to respect that and also my biological parents.  When I got older I went back to the reservation.  IT IS part of every day life there and is accepted to many as, ok.  I say this ONLY out of my own personal experiences and heart breaks.  I have buried many family members (young and younger), including my own biological dad, to this life style.  Knowing this and what it would do to your child would you want your child to be sentenced to this?  I don’t.  What would you do if the only thing that stood between your child and a life outside of this is ONE law?  Please do not take me wrong.  I am very proud of who I am.  If they want to have traditions they will find their way back.  But nothing can take there heritage.  Each Indian child was born with it flowing through their bodies.  Am I any less of an Indian for being raisedin a white home?  Please let us be proud of who we are.  Don’t make it a curse.
Why can we not live by our Elders words and wisdom.  As stated by a Tewa Tesque Pueblo Elder, “The Instructions during that time, at the beginning, were to love and respect one another even with all the differences, different cultures, different languages.  We were told wewere all from the same source we are coming from the same mother, same parents.  TheInstructions was to live in a good way and be respectful to everybody and everything, we weretold if the Instructions were lost then harm would come to the people.”  It shouldn’t matterwhether the family I chose for my daugheter are purple, red, yellow, black or blue.  Enrollmentnumbers and money shouldn’t matter.  My daughter knows who she is.  All that should matteris that she is safe and happy.  Has every opportunity to be her very best and love who shewants and is loved by those who love her, whether they are Indian or not.
All I am asking is for you to please, let me me have the right to secure my daughters future.  Let me have my rights to write a Will that states that I wish for my daughter to beplaced in a non-Indian home of my choice, where she would be raised and loved as only I canlove her.  Let me have my rights to know it will be respected and be able to finally live withsome peace of mind.  All I am asking is for you to please, consider the families that are beingkept together, but most especially consider those families that will be…and have beenshattered and torn apart.  Always keep in mind the children.  My child and the hundreds and thousands that are being affected by the Indian Child Welfare Act.  Thank you for your time.
God Bless!.

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