Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Cherokee nation is mourning the loss of the custody battle involving a native child. Her father, a Cherokee member, is mourning the loss of his right to parent his baby. Her mother, who is not native, is mourning the loss of her right to give her baby up for adoption. A non-native couple in Charleston, SC is rejoicing the return of a child they adopted four years ago. A child of mixed heritage, both native and not, has been shuttled between families over the course of her four years but there is no report regarding how she feels in this moment.

In 1971, when I was adopted, fathers did not have paternal rights with regard to adoption. While men could petition the court if they knew their child was being put up for adoption, mothers were not required to get permission from fathers before starting the adoption process. Because of the lack of paternal involvement in the process, I was not aware of my native heritage until I was 17 years old and that nugget of information was not confirmed until 25 years later. My father is of mixed heritage like the baby mentioned above. He is the culmination of the melting pot that is our country, boasting a little bit of Irish, a spot of English and some combination of Cherokee, Apache and Blackfoot. While I am not an official expert on the subject, I am Veronica in many regards.

Throughout the battle for parental rights, people on the outside have formed an opinion. Most of those opinions focus on the racial differences. It's the Indian vs. the white man. It's Indian government vs. the U.S. government. Jurisdiction vs. jurisdiction. Parent vs. parent. Where is the baby in all of this? Where is Veronica? Many will say that they are each acting in the best interests of the child but I challenge that notion. Who's right is it, really, to say what is in Veronica's best interest?

Adopted children host an internal battle throughout theirs lives between their nature and who they are raised to be. But we never talk about that. So maybe the best interest of the child is to stay with the birth family. However most birth families are not equipped to offer a world of possibilities to the child so maybe the best interest is to place the child with a family who will broaden the horizons for the child and help turn the ancestral tide for the birth family.

There is no one solution. But whatever the best interest is, it should not be based on race. If ethnic heritage played a role in my fate, would we have lopped off a leg for the Irish, given an arm to the English, offered my art to the Apache and my voice to the Cherokee. What about the Blackfoot? What would their portion have been?

Is there an obligation of adoptive parents to make sure the child's cultural heritage is shared with the child? Yes.  In whatever way possible. And while I won't offer what I think should have happened in the case of Baby Veronica, I will say this: Cherokee nation should step up and offer cultural education instead of continuing to fight the adoptive parents and the adoptive parents should vow to encourage a connection between their daughter and Cherokee nation.

This case is not uncommon. There are Veronica's everywhere. What is in the best interest of Veronica and everyone like her? It is a world of peace and understanding, where the racial divide is diminished by the love of diversity and a curiosity of culture. It is a world of endless possibilities. It is a world where all cultures are experienced and appreciated and honored by all cultures. The best interest of these children is the best that life can offer.

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