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Dr. Phil on Baby Veronica: He Just Doesn't Get It

Donna Ennis
10/23/12

Dr. Phil either gets it or he doesn’t. After viewing a recent episode of his show that featured the perspective of adoptive parents in the "battle over Baby Veronica," it is clear to me that he doesn’t get it. Critics in the mental health field say his approach can verge on emotional violence and this appeared to be the case in this episode. As Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, defends the purpose of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), she is repeatedly interrupted and badgered by Troy Dunn, host of the TV show The Locator. It is Troy Dunn who pitched the story to Dr. Phil in the first place. There is a significant history of people in this country that exploit Native American culture to get media exposure for personal gain. Troy Dunn is a white man but has a Native American brother who was adopted into his family. I guess this is his free pass to speak about things that he has no first-hand knowledge of. He shouts at Nimmo about Baby Veronica’s lack of blood quantum as though that defines who is Indian. Then he shares his ignorance of ICWA by saying any child who has “one drop” of Indian blood could be taken away from adoptive parents. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruling sided with Veronica’s father and the Cherokee Tribe by returning Veronica to her family where she will grow up surrounded by her people and her culture and all of the inherent rights and pride that go with this privilege. Critics of the decision to return Veronica to her family have cited an injustice to the adoptive parents. The Federal ICWA was enacted to right the injustices that have been done to Native families for over 200 years. The days of a “civilize the savages” mentality are gone and with it went the right to parent children cross-culturally. In the 80’s and 90’s when I was an ICWA worker many counties placed children in foster care and adoptive homes and literally hid them out from the Tribes and if a long enough period of time went by the courts would use this as a rationale to continue to support the cross cultural placement of the children. Returning the children to the Tribe would be an “injustice” they would say and cite attachment theory. Today the most destructive aspect of Native families is the continued practice of cross cultural placements. Finally, Dr Phil issues his opinion: “To tear this child away from y’all (Oklahoma accent intended) in an abrupt fashion like that, there’s no question that is was traumatic for her,” he told the Capobiancos. “There will be real issues for this child going forward. I will tell you, however, that research suggests long term that children can recover from this; children are resilient. She can have a happy and adjusted life in a new environment if in fact that environment is loving, nurturing and productive for her.” The Copobiancos, whose request for a rehearing in the custody case of Baby Veronica in South Carolina Supreme Court was denied on August 23, appealed on October 1st for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. They are still waiting a response. Donna Ennis is currently the chair of the Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council, as well as the eastern regional director and cultural director for North Homes Children and Family Services, a professional foster care agency.

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Anonymous's picture
Don't be ridiculous. The father himself did not even identify himself as Indian until he found out he could use ICWA to remove Veronica from her family. This is not a case of a baby being stolen from a tribe to be raised by white people. This is a case of a man abandoning his child child, that child finding a loving home, and then the biological father changing his mind with zero regard of what was in the best interest of the child. Do not bring up what happened 200 years ago or even 70 years ago. It does not matter to this little girl. He surrendered his parental rights and signed his name saying he would not contest the adoption. End of story.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Baby Veronica left a loving home and the stories that I am reading about in Indian Country seem to be one sided. I hope the truth comes out in the end and we get to hear from the birth mother.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Why does it take ICTMN forever to post a comment. This is ridiculous. This site reminds me of Fox News, which is one sided!
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous, you obviously enjoy seeing your thoughts of outrage, but it sounded like you need to hear all the sides of this story. If I didn't research it enough, I'd agree with you, but I did research it enough. I would suggest to all those who write comments and base their opinion on a single article, dive deeper in this story. A great podcast (audio) was recently done by WNYC Radiolab. They've interviewed key people involved in this, and give you an unbiased opinion. Their podcast episode is called: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl.
Anonymous