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National Indian Child Welfare Association Responds to Dr. Phil's Coverage of ICWA Case

Terry Cross
10/22/12

On October 18, 2012, the Dr. Phil show aired an episode that focused on a disputed custody case involving an American Indian child, Veronica. The case pits a loving father’s attempts to parent his daughter against a non-Indian couple from South Carolina–the Capobiancos–and their attorneys who orchestrated an illegal attempt to adopt Veronica. The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) is gravely disappointed in the heavy slant toward the Capobiancos’ recounting of the situation and interpretation of the legal issues in the case. Veronica’s father, who has been relentlessly vilified in the media as a “deadbeat dad” is, in fact, a loving parent and a decorated Iraq war veteran. Rather than acknowledge his right to protect his daughter from a media firestorm that has proven deeply biased, the Dr. Phil show instead allowed personal attacks on his character and speculation on his parenting–from those who admittedly have had no contact with him–to continue unchallenged. We find these attacks unsupported by court records and unacceptable. Veronica’s pre-adoptive placement was kept secret by her mother and attorneys representing the Capobiancos. Her placement with them was not revealed to Veronica’s father for four months–just days before he was sent to Iraq. Upon learning of his daughter’s proposed adoption, the father quickly moved to affirm his rights to parent Veronica. After three decisions supporting his rights in the South Carolina courts, he has been parenting her since January 2012.

Chrissi Nimmo

Dr. Phil and several of his guests ignored the fraudulent process attorneys representing the Capobiancos used to help them gain custody of Veronica during their unsuccessful attempt to adopt her. That Veronica is American Indian was known by the Capobiancos and their attorneys, as was the fact that any adoptive process involving her would be covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Instead of delving into why the Capobiancos were advised to circumvent the law, putting Veronica at high risk, Dr. Phil instead chose to rebuff the two guests with the most knowledge of this case and experience in such matters, Assistant District Attorney of the Cherokee Nation Chrissi Nimmo and Les Marston, attorney and tribal judge. NICWA understands this case is emotionally-charged and has attracted worldwide attention. Nonetheless, we must reject the subjective definitions of what is in Veronica’s best interest that Dr. Phil disappointingly reinforced. Not only did the discussion of Veronica’s “best interest” completely discount the importance of her cultural identity and rights as a tribal citizen, it more shockingly ignored the significance of her being raised within a loving home with her father, sister, stepmother, and loving grandparents–and among a community that includes extended family and tribal members who love her. As Nimmo correctly stated, if Veronica was a non-Indian child, existing state and federal laws would have afforded the father an opportunity to seek custody of her and not reward those who violated the law. Furthermore, NICWA firmly believes that Veronica’s best interest is not served by the continued negative media campaign currently pursued by the Capobiancos and their public relations firm. We have no doubt they love Veronica, but in this case, the ends they hope to accomplish certainly do not justify the means. Dr. Phil’s portrayal only serves to put Veronica at further risk. The show’s characterization of ICWA was also filled with misinformation and inaccuracies. ICWA is a law that has helped protect thousands of American Indian children and keep them with their families. Veronica’s story illustrates the clear ongoing need for federal protections like ICWA for American Indian children who continue to be the victims of questionable, and sometimes illegal, attempts to adopt them out. To learn more about how you can support the National Indian Child Welfare Association’s efforts to strengthen protections for American Indian children and families and to access more information on this case, please visit their website. Terry Cross is the executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. NICWA is a Portland-based national nonprofit organization and the most comprehensive source of information on American Indian child welfare working on behalf of Indian children and families. NICWA provides public policy, research, advocacy, information, training, and community development services to a broad national audience, including state child welfare agencies and other organizations, agencies, and professionals interested in the field of Indian child welfare.

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andre's picture
It's good to see so many concerned people get and step-up to address this wrong. Advocacy and information are powerful when channeled in the right direction. While I support the boycott, a direct contact to advertisers on the Dr. Phil show would have a more direct impact. It would also force others to look more closely at this and other issue before promoting misinformation.
andre
rezzdog's picture
Capobiancos, a family whose origins lie in Italy, specifically a town and comune in the Province of Reggio Calabria. The city is long known for corruption and its Mafia connections. As it sits on the straights of Messina, Sicily. With a name that means Captain of the Biancos, is there any doubt this family is corrupt and has strong ties to organized crime? Talk about sensationalism, if Dr. Phil wanted to dramatize the situation any further, all he had to do was to dig into this families past as much as he speculated on the poor child's native family.
rezzdog
rezzdog's picture
Capobiancos, a family whose origins lie in Italy, specifically a town and comune in the Province of Reggio Calabria. The city is long known for corruption and its Mafia connections. As it sits on the straights of Messina, right across from Sicily. With a name that means Captain of the Biancos, is there any doubt this family is corrupt and has strong ties to organized crime? Talk about sensationalism, if Dr. Phil wanted to dramatize the situation any further, all he had to do was to dig into this families past as much as he speculated on the poor child's native family.
rezzdog
rangdrol's picture
Thanks for writing this revealing story. One thing that worries me is that you may not have actually seen the show. I did. I also noted how Dr. Phil asked Johnston's two sons if they saw anything "you would want to be a part of" refering to the life on the reserve. Dr. Phil asked this in a derisive and demeaning tone, just moments after the two boys shared a memory of life on the reserve in which they said that they remembered having to urinate in paint buckets, due to the lack of a toilet. How insulting!! Because of the comments, and Dr. Phils' clear bias for the disgruntled "adoptive parents" , I created a petition letter on www.change.org. I would like to ask you and those in the Native American and First Nation communities in US and Canada to go and sign the petition. You can find it by going to www.change.org, and typing in my headline, Dr. Phil Show, and Chrissi Ross Nimmo. Because I am a monk and dont use Facebook, and dont have many friends, I would appreciate an email list , if possible, and I would only use for the petition letter, however, I aslo encourage you and your readers to help sign the petition. If we can get 100,00 signatures, that would be really great and we could then get Dr. Phil to take notice.
rangdrol
Anonymous's picture
I live on a reservation and am married to an enrolled member. I am of Hispanic decent. We have 4 children who are not enrolled but are decendents. We have seen coruption within our Indian Child Welfare system. We have custody of our grandchildren presently. My granddaughter was physically abused, chocked and bruised on at least 3 occasion that we know of. The last one was investigated by the county investigator and confirmed it did happen. The mother has admitted shooting up heroin ad using my granddaughter's urine to pass her drug tests. The county attorney refuses to prosecute the mother for the physical abuse on my granddaughter. She used to be the attorney for our Indian child welfare. ICW is trying to reunite the mother with the children even though she has been kicked out of 4 tretment centers since May 2012. She is still using drugs and has cancelled scheduled supervised visits with the children. ICW's main concern is how much money they can make off of my grandchildren and how long they can keep them is the system. My grandaughter has been going to the tribal outpatient treatment due to her admitting using marijuana on 2 occasions while living with the mother. They have billed the state for services she did not receive. It's typical of the corruption within the tribal government and how they are using my grandchildren for profit. Sick.
Anonymous