Header

Don't Let a South Carolina Judge Disenroll Baby Veronica

Cedric Sunray
11/12/13

Hundreds of articles have been published and thousands of comments have been shared online. Tribes around the country have galvanized their support. Even so, Baby Veronica was sent to South Carolina where she may live out her childhood years in the arms of a family who clearly loves her, but whose inclusion in her short life has caused a tidal wave of controversy and calls of racism. A committed father in Oklahoma clearly is devastated and wrongfully separated from his child.

Custody battles are many times brutal narratives and the issues surrounding the Veronica case are ones which have played over time and time again in Indian country. Most of these cases are little known such as In re Bridget R. Here it was stated by the court, “…ICWA does not and cannot apply to invalidate a voluntary termination of parental rights respecting an Indian child who is not domiciled on a reservation, unless the child’s biological parent, or parents, are not only of American Indian descent, but also maintain a significant social, cultural, or political relationship with their tribe.

Dusten Brown most likely never voluntarily withdrew his parental rights and so this case could be argued as non-applicable. We could also argue that determining a “significant social, cultural, or political relationship with a tribe” is up to a large number of interpretations. I do not disagree with any contestation by a tribal body of what constitutes these definitions accurately and I realize that non-Indian courts cannot adequately determine such definitions. However, in all honesty, it is highly doubtful that the Brown family could have met a standard of significant social, cultural, or political tribal relationship if judged and determined by a contingent of Indian people who were not being persuaded by the pressure of upholding tribal sovereignty.

What the courts have put in motion will have a predictable result. As one not raised around his father past age four, I can assure you that Baby Veronica will spend a lifetime longing for hers. It makes no difference if Dusten Brown is viewed as non-Indian or Indian, cultural or non-cultural.

This reality is driven home to me each day as I am blessed to work as an employee of our local public school Indian Education program with young Indian men enduring lives of incarceration in juvenile detention centers and group homes. Many have lived their lives partially or fully in foster care and have had little connection to their indigenous cultures due to this. The disconnection and its results are completely observable. Those who have lived with a parent or other relative are most likely to have lived with their mothers or a female relation. In Indian Country Father’s Day is a complex holiday to be sure. Disconnecting young Indian males from their roots and male family members can have devastating consequences and at times requires long, arduous journeys home.

Removal from one’s family is a form of legalized disenrollment and disenrollment is a form of violence. In connection to all of this I can definitely comment with conviction and responsibility on the issues surrounding the disenrollment of the other “Veronicas” that are not receiving the level of Indian unification and related strong defense from tribal backers, advocates, and activists as Baby Veronica has.

Though of minor Indian descent and cultural connection, Baby Veronica has created outrage and volatile screams of the trampling on of tribal sovereignty from Indian leaders nationwide. This little girl has become a one stop political platform for local, regional, and national Indian organizations and tribes. Ironically, these same tribes and individuals can barely put together a sentence concerning the many little “Veronicas” who are being thrown out of their tribes, removed from their local Indian schools, cut off from needed Indian Health Service programs, and more. Where is the outrage? Where are the screams for justice concerning the removal and attempted removal (aka disenrollment) of children from over 50 tribes over the past dozen years? Baby Veronica it seems was tribal sovereignty convenient, while the wholesale disenfranchisement of over a thousand children from tribes nationally barely causes a ripple in Indian Country’s proverbial pond.

The 3/256 Indian by blood baby girl has shown herself (without her knowledge or approval) a more formidable opponent and pied piper for the presumed Indian cause then hundreds of physically and culturally identifiable Indian children, as well as Indian Freedmen (many of whom are also of Indian blood descent and cultural affiliation), who have become “tribal sovereignty’s” latest victims. In an effort to protect ever changing legal definitions of identity and tribal sovereignty, many in Indian Country have conveniently pushed aside all moral considerations. Heck, the Washington D.C. NFL team issue gets one thousand times the press coverage. It seems a much safer engagement to dispute a racist caricature than to confront one’s own people engaged in the attempted social, cultural, and economic genocide of actual living Indians.

Baby Veronica, despite the failed court result, has highlighted the power of the connected in Indian Country, while furthering the divide of those occupying the bottom rung such as the disenrolled.

Where is the ICWA for those who were clearly enrolled and community connected members of their tribes and who are now found on the sidelines with no hope of entering back into the game? Why have the many tribes who have not disenrolled their own shown an unwillingness to level sanctions on those who have by insuring their exclusion from the national Indian family? Why does a country who is willing to blockade Cuba and drive its guns and missiles deep into the Middle East allow for the paper genocide of nations of people surrounded by its borders? The politically powerful in Indian Country want it both ways and they are getting it while those of us with a conscience sit silently by. Rhetoric over rationality. Constitutions over community. Ethnocide over ethics. Sovereignty over sensibilities. Violence overshadowed by Veronica. Why have so many fought so diligently to keep her in, while also sitting idly by or even contributing diligently to pushing the other children out? Where is the outrage?

Cedric Sunray (MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians) is a longtime educator and current University of Oklahoma College of Law student.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page

14

POST A COMMENT

Comments

Two Bears Growling's picture
Cedric, you make a very valid point my friend. Now, I would like to see how many are going to answer the questions you bring up. That outcome should be interesting to watch play out.
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
Many of the Tribes in the Northwest have amended their Enrollment Ordinances to stop the removal of all children under the age of 18. Cherokee should do the same if they do not have this protection in the Ordinance at this time.
Anonymous
hesutu's picture
"Though of minor Indian descent and cultural connection, Baby Veronica..." "The 3/256 Indian by blood..." Why do I have to read racist arguments here of all places? VERONICA IS ONE HUNDRED PERCENT A CITIZEN OF THE CHEROKEE NATION.
hesutu
Anonymous's picture
The point is the Supreme Court mad a bad choice. Just not enough is being done at all levels. Veronica should be as hard as every child is fought for by their tribe. Who exactly are the disenrolled? From what tribe by what means? Why are the tribes not working together on this.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
We need the existing, federally recognized tribes to help make tribal sovereignty available in an inclusive manner, based both on the history of tribal membership, cultural identification and BLOOD. I fully recognize Veronica's right to be Cherokee but there are people with heavy blood quanti, who don't have a chance to be ever recognized tribal members, because their tribes have been denied recognition for decades. It's not right. An inclusive solution has to be found and brotherhood between tribes should be fostered.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
We need the existing, federally recognized tribes to help make tribal sovereignty available in an inclusive manner, based both on the history of tribal membership, cultural identification and BLOOD. I fully recognize Veronica's right to be Cherokee but there are people with heavy blood quanti, who don't have a chance to be ever recognized tribal members, because their tribes have been denied recognition for decades. It's not right. An inclusive solution has to be found and brotherhood between tribes should be fostered.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
As the Cherokee Nation has the sovereign right to decide who is or is not a citizen, so do the tribes who dis-enroll their own. It is not for the Cherokee to decide who is a citizen of another nation any more than it is that of the South Carolina courts to decide Veronica is or is not Cherokee. The over-stepping the sovereignty of another nation should never occur. It doesn't take much of an imagination to realize the consequences of opening that Pandora's box.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Clearly, some good points have been brought up here in this article; however, when is it ever right morally or within the so called court system to remove a child from a fit biological parent who wishes to raise his own child? Dusten Brown proved that he was a fit, loving, protective parent in every way. No Child, Native American, or otherwise should have their best interests so ignored. It will take vigilence by all to stop this unethical and illegal removal of children from their blood, biological parents. Culture should not be ignored but neither should biology.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I can agree with the sentiment expressed here, as it has been distressing to watch the dis-enrollment trend that has gone on, especially since the onset of Indian gaming. Indian Country (the community, not the media) needs to get its act together, and address this problem, but it is a problem only we can resolve, and will not occur over night, I'm afraid. However, I do think that the "Baby Veronica" case has merit, because that child was eligible for membership at birth, since she met the membership criteria of the Cherokee Nation. All of our tribes have that right to establish our own criteria, and I would hope that a tribe will then follow its own criteria fairly, based on a fairly-passed set of rules laid out in its Constitution and its ordinances. The fact was, this child WAS enrolled, and she IS a Cherokee citizen. It is not up to the rest of us to comment on her blood quantum, or if she chooses or is raised following specific cultural teachings. Within any given tribe, you will find the same variety that you might find in any population... those who follow a particular religion, or perhaps none at all... or perhaps might follow traditional cultural ways. We cannot be put into a box. That is what made the SCOTUS decision so bizarre... basically saying that because she had not ever been in the custody of her father, therefore she had no culture to lose... Every one of us have family members who might practice different ways than we do... but they are still family. The Baby Veronica case has merit because the Cherokee Nation is a federally-recognized tribe, and as such is a sovereign nation... (I know, I know... just when is the federal government going to get around to precisely defining what "sovereign nation" really means, and if it does, could we possibly even agree with their definition?) and the little girl is a member of that tribe, so she IS AN INDIAN CHILD. Since SCOTUS seemed to think that in spite of her being an Indian Child, that ICWA didn't apply... doesn't that attack what we have all certainly believed that "sovereignty" meant? If we are sovereign, then we also have the right to dis-enroll members, although hopefully it is done with valid and just reasons, and not to get a smaller membership so that fewer members will get larger per capita checks. I hesitate to make a comment about something which I know very little about... but wasn't the Freedman issue about requiring those members to be able to trace their lineage to the Dawes Rolls, as is required of all other members? That was my understanding, although I could certainly be wrong. Our tribal governments have been in a state of growth for some time, now. Some are much further along than others, and many are still showing signs of immaturity, unfortunately. Still... it is a process, and I know that many people have been hurt along the way. These are problems that must be resolved internally, however, if sovereignty has any meaning at all. Organizations such as Tribal Chairman's groups, National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund, and others should do more to reach out to those tribes exhibiting the need for guidance, to develop and implement their enrollment policies. When one of our tribes goes about the dirty practice of dis-enrollment for the wrong reasons, it casts a shadow over us all.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
What powerful question, thank you.
Anonymous

Pages