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Baby Veronica and Native American Family Values

Jacqueline Pata
4/16/13

The mainstream media has continued to make repeated factual errors when reporting on the high profile Supreme Court custody case involving a Native American father and his daughter. The latest are today’s Washington Post and New York Times editorial board opinions of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, being heard today by the Supreme Court. The misrepresentations are significant, one sided, and a direct affront to Native American family values.

The facts of the case are straightforward: Dusten Brown is an Iraq war veteran and a member of the Cherokee Nation. He understands service and commitment and nothing could be clearer than his commitment to his daughter Veronica.

Veronica is Brown’s now 3 1/2-year-old daughter; Veronica and Dusten now are a family together in Oklahoma. Veronica’s father and mother were engaged when she was conceived. When Dusten Brown first learned of the pregnancy, he begged his fiancé to marry him right away, to move into military housing on base with him, and even suggested she quit her job so that she could focus on their unborn child. He pledged to financially support her, their child and even her children from another relationship.

The father was heartbroken and confused when his pregnant fiancé broke off their engagement and stopped answering his phone calls and text messages. He called and sent text messages, repeatedly and without response. Finally, he got permission to leave the base and traveled to her home, some four hours away. Her car was there and he heard voices inside her home, but she would not come to the door.

Court testimony shows that the birth mother kept her plans to adopt the baby a secret from the father – because she knew that the father would never consent to give his child up for adoption. The father did not learn of the mother’s plans to give up the baby until the child was four months old and the father was on the verge of shipping out to Iraq. Once learning this news, the father immediately took all the legal steps he could consistent with the pressures of his deployment into hostile territory and subsequent combat.

Although adoption lawyers for the South Carolina couple filed an adoption action just days after her birth, they waited four months to serve the father with the legal papers – finally serving him just before he deployed for his mission in Iraq.

In short, from his first knowledge of the pregnancy, the father expressed nothing but a sincere desire to love, support and care for his child.

Throughout the two-year long court proceedings, the father sent child support payments to the South Carolina couple, which deposited them into their attorney’s trust account. The father also purchased stuffed animals and other toys for his daughter during this period – all of which were returned, along with the 20 pairs of socks hand-knitted by the child’s grandmother.

The case was eventually taken up by three separate courts in South Carolina, and all of them ruled in favor of Dusten Brown. After a full, four-day trial, the Family Court judge noted that Brown “is the father of another daughter” and that “[t]he undisputed testimony is that he is a loving and devoted father. Even [Birth Mother] herself testified that [Brown] was a good father. There is no evidence to suggest that he would be anything other than an excellent parent to this child.” The Family Court judge concluded “the birth father is a fit and proper person to have custody of his child”; he “has demonstrated that he has the ability to parent effectively” and “has convinced me of his unwavering love for this child.”

Despite this factual record developed in tremendous detail by three separate courts over the last two years, members of the mainstream media have continued to misreport key aspects of the case.

Most damning of all are the media reports have created the mistaken impression that South Carolina family adopted the child and Dusten Brown is seeking to undo the adoption. The facts are exactly the opposite: Veronica was never adopted, and the attorneys for the South Carolina couple knew from the start that the father was going to fight for the right to raise his child and that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was going to be a key legal issue.

Despite the knowledge that the father wanted to raise the child and the fact that ICWA could apply, the South Carolina couple’s adoption lawyers made the decision to fight to keep the child -- against the will of her family and against the will of her Cherokee Nation.

In contrast, Dusten Brown and his representatives have always shown respect for the legal process and for the South Carolina couple – even though the process kept him apart from his daughter for two years.

Likewise, the mainstream media has failed to explore the misconduct that led to Veronica being removed from Oklahoma and taken away to South Carolina when she was barely a week old. The court proceedings in this case revealed that the lawyers were at fault, in particular, according to the brief Dusten Brown’s attorneys filed with the Supreme Court, “[a]lthough Mother's attorney provided the Cherokee Nation with father's name while inquiring whether the child would be an ‘Indian child’ subject to ICWA, the attorney misspelled Father's first name and provided both the wrong day and wrong year for Father's date of birth; based on these misstatements, the Cherokee Nation responded that the child appeared not to be an Indian child, adding that any misinformation would invalidate that determination. Mother testified at trial that she knew the Cherokee Nation's determination could not be correct—and that she informed her attorney of that fact—but no further efforts were made to determine whether Baby Girl was an Indian child.”

Had the Oklahoma Interstate Compact Commission been provided accurate information about this child's Native American heritage, the South Carolina adoption attorneys would never received permission to take her out of Oklahoma and all of this heartache for Dusten Brown and for the South Carolina family could have been avoided.

Yet almost no attention has been paid to the conduct of these adoption attorneys, and that is truly unfortunate. Because, in many ways, the story of the case of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is about two increasingly common trends in the adoption services industry: First, attempts to purposefully circumvent ICWA through legal evasion, and second, attempts by adoption lawyers to take advantage of active duty service members in the process of being deployed to combat, or in active deployments.

That’s why the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), with the permission of the Brown family, has released a new video about the Brown family, and specifically about Dusten Brown, because up until recently the media has failed in their job in telling a balanced and full story about this case and the Brown family.

At its very heart, this case is about a father’s deep desire to raise his daughter Veronica. Dusten Brown is an Iraq war veteran, a family man, a man of conviction, and most importantly, a father. He is also a member of his tribal nation, the Cherokee Nation.

Let the world and the United States not forget that Native men and women are caring fathers and mothers, parents and grandparents Our family and community values are what have carried us through our most difficult times – we are all a family and we stand together. Our young people are our future and we will not give up on protecting them and their rights.

It’s long past time for the mainstream media to get the story right and to dig deeper and explore the endemic misconduct that is threatening to break up the families of both Native Americans and members of the military.

Jacqueline Pata is the Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). The Tribal Supreme Court Project, an initiative of NCAI and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) - organized a legal response to the Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl appeal along with the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA). The effort resulted in an overwhelming response in support of the family, ICWA, and federal Indian law. In total, 24 amicus briefs were submitted in support of the Brown family - Veronica the Daughter and Dusten the father - and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

Video: The National Congress of American Indians created the video below featuring Veronica with her biological father and his wife, Robin. (Related: U.S. Supreme Court Hears Baby Veronica Custody Case)

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Anonymous's picture
Sadly everyone is forgetting a key issue- What is in the best interest of the child. Not Dusten Brown and not the Adoptive family. She was taken from a loving home. Period. From people who had loved her from day one and who had raised her from day one. How do you think that affected the child? As an adopted child myself, AND as someone with 50 percent native heritage- I thank god everyday that in Canada a law like that one couldn't have removed me from MY loving adoptive parents. And to this point, I don't understand how a man who has only 2 percent native in him ( rendering the child much less than that ) can enact a law designed to prevent removal of native children from their culture and homes. This child is by all intents and purposes NOT native. Her father is more European, 98 percent EUROPEAN- NOT native. I am sorry, but this is despicable in every sense of the word. Stop this foolish nonsense. STOP using an innocent little girl as a legal pawn and for Gods sake- Give her back to her parents. My heart aches for HER!
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I am tired of people using blood quantum as a measure of heritage. ICWA was created in order to allow Native children to maintain their culture because at the time it was enacted so many children were placed in homes where their culture was not practiced nor known. Thus children grew up in a home, albeit loving, that was detached from their cultural ties. I agree that in this particular case the child suffers, however this case is a poor representation of ICWA and does not highlight the tremendous benefits of maintaining tribal sovereignty and ensuring an opportunity for our children grow up in a Western world while taking pride in their heritage and knowing their culture. But there is fault on every side in this case such that the family in SC informally adopted the child without following up with any attorney to secure the child was actually their adopted child, thus they should have known that at anytime she could have been taken away because of their failure to take proper legal action. The mother's faults are clear and well written about in the media but to recall, she cowardly tried to hide the adoption from the biological father only because she was afraid to seek his approval. The father has faults by perhaps not taking more initiative to stop the process at an earlier point but as most of the media fails to include he did so only because he was on active duty, paying his service to protect our country. Legally, since the SC family did not complete the adoption process by legal standards the biological father has every right to have custody over his daughter. It is absolutely unfortunate that the child has had to change homes but it is clear that she is loved by many and it is foolish to say that she went from a loving home to anything that was less. She is now with a father who loves her and is fighting to be with her. Moreover, it is utterly absurd to say the father has less of a right to her due to blood quantum. Please get your facts straight, know why ICWA was enacted, and see that blood quantum is a faulty indicator of how active one is in his/her culture.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I JUST HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE WON'T PUT THEIR NAME UP WITH THEIR COMMENT....IF YOU ARE GOING TO SAY IT....PUT YOUR NAME UP ...
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
This is a heartbreaking case that could have been avoided. I think the lawyers facilitating the adoption should be disbarred. What they did was morally and ethically bankrupt and a child, a father and a couple who wanted a child all suffer--- absolutely reprehensible. American Indian children should be raised in their culture. This isn't a debate of which family is more loving, it is critical to understand that those who are adopted outside their tribe will never know how much they lose when they are adopted away from their rich tribal heritage. The comment about blood quantum just shows how much people do NOT understand American Indian tribes. I am 1/2 Seneca and 1/2 Irish and my connection to the Seneca Nation and tribal traditions has been instrumental in making me stable, healthy and productive individual in society. I thank God my parents raised me to understand that this was an intrinsic part of who I am. The ICWA is a critical safeguard against a corrupt Western society that has perpetuated violence against Natives since stepping foot on this land.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Thank you. It is always a quiet or unrequited voice that needs to be heard. I am definitely in support of ICWA -- because it is a beautiful marriage of culture, security, tradition, and love for everyone and everything one's life is conglomerated to become a single individual. Good luck Baby Veronica. . . everyone does not have to have lines drawn. . . life is adaptable.
Anonymous
Two Bears Growling's picture
Folks can say what they want & argue for those people trying to adopt this child of our people, however, our children need to be with their parents & if not, then be with their extended family if someone is willing & able to parent these children. The worst thing that happens to our people, besides the usual things, is taking our children away from their culture. When you take our culture away from us & our beliefs, you kill our spirit. Washichu culture is so evil to think they can take what makes us who we are away from us. So many of their ways are wicked & filled with greed & destruction of our Mother Earth & our people. This family who has had this child of our people had no legal or moral right to this little one. Keeping her from her father who loves her is evil. The lawyer who mispelled the father's information knew EXACTLY what deceipt he was playing. I hope this SOB is sent to jail, fined, sued & thrown off the Bar. It's ones like this one that makes us despise so many in the white world. As for this evil woman who tried to sell this child & keep it hidden from the child's birth father, if she is tribal, she deserves to be banished & thrown off the rolls. She deserves jail time as well. People can say what they like, but adoptions are a financial business. Money changes hands & children are given to others. That's the hard facts of this trade of adoptions. It's not very pretty is it? I thought not. Keep our children in our communities, with their relations & learning about who they are from day one!
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
Seems to me that heralding this woman as a hero is a mistake. She eludes her financial responsibility as well as pawning off a little girl while retaining perks of an open adoption? In addition, she's now denigrating a man who was supporting two children that weren't his, and had offered to marry her, and make them a complete family which she refused. She was willing to take his money, make a child, let him pay for her bills, but not marry? Simply put, she's a hero for not living up to her financial obligation to the child, but the man is a deadbeat. I get it now. Nice double standard. Further, nice way to perpetuate that women aren't financially responsible for their kids too. Moreover, nice message that little girl is going to grow up learning that men are to be relegated to being only a paycheck while women can escape their financial obligations yet still be involved while men can't. Men go to jail or lose their licenses if they don't pay, but this woman doesn't and she's a hero. Get real. Nice slant. The judges need to inquire why she didn't marry him. What financial support was he providing before she was pregnant to her, and her other children? Where was the father of her other kids, and what support was he providing if any? What caused that relationship to fail? To me, that's all very much relevant.To me, this is more about her character and psychopathology than anything. This is about father's rights, and mens equality too. There's so much more to this case than just what race the child is. This case highlights the disparity in rights between mothers and fathers. I'd hope that people actually learn that men have rights to their children too from this case. It's about time that reality is acknowledged.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Seems to me that heralding this woman as a hero is a mistake. She eludes her financial responsibility as well as pawning off a little girl while retaining perks of an open adoption? In addition, she's now denigrating a man who was supporting two children that weren't his, and had offered to marry her, and make them a complete family which she refused. She was willing to take his money, make a child, let him pay for her bills, but not marry? Simply put, she's a hero for not living up to her financial obligation to the child, but the man is a deadbeat. I get it now. Nice double standard. Further, nice way to perpetuate that women aren't financially responsible for their kids too. Moreover, nice message that little girl is going to grow up learning that men are to be relegated to being only a paycheck while women can escape their financial obligations yet still be involved while men can't. Men go to jail or lose their licenses if they don't pay, but this woman doesn't and she's a hero. Get real. Nice slant. The judges need to inquire why she didn't marry him. What financial support was he providing before she was pregnant to her, and her other children? Where was the father of her other kids, and what support was he providing if any? What caused that relationship to fail? To me, that's all very much relevant.To me, this is more about her character and psychopathology than anything. This is about father's rights, and mens equality too. There's so much more to this case than just what race the child is. This case highlights the disparity in rights between mothers and fathers. I'd hope that people actually learn that men have rights to their children too from this case. It's about time that reality is acknowledged.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
I am praying for you to keep your daughter! It is so wrong what they are trying to do to you. I feel for the couple who is trying to adopt her but they are not her parent! The mother did not want her so she should go to the only parent who does want her! God be with you all always! Miss Kaquoli Meli Reno
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
What I find amazing is that the Supreme Court heard this case. I am hesitant about believing anything regarding the media. I had a relative who was a reporter and all they were after was the "story". Forget the facts. There were several times, as a family, we had to tell the 'reporter' to quit snooping around and basically spreading gossip. On the surface Mr. Brown looks great. But SOMETHING had to happen between him and the biological mother. Especially if she felt she had to go the route of proceeding with an adoption. I have cousins who are half other and look it. I mean, if you took them and placed them with the other race they would blend in 100%. What I am getting at is what is inside and how they were raised. Many times we took offense with them when they came home angry because some one called them "Whatever", white, Af.Am. Mexican, etc. We, never saw our cousins as the other race, they were raised withour family, our tribe, they participated in traditional ceremonies, not pow wows, they know our language, culture and traditions, they eat our traditional foods, some of these foods are harvested by foraging. They are tribal members, and have more tribal blood than some members. I am directing this last paragraph to the writer who commented about Mr. Brown being only 2% Native American. If he is a tribal member and was raised that way you can't take that away from him.
Anonymous

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