Suzette Brewer
Dusten Brown with his daughter, Veronica.

Baby Veronica and the Future of ICWA: What’s Next

Christina Rose
3/12/14

At a recent symposium, Joel West Williams, Cherokee, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, announced, “Raise your hand if you consider yourself one percent American, or 4/56 percent a citizen of Connecticut.”

His request referenced the first sentence in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Baby Veronica case, which stated that Veronica is 3/256th Cherokee. Williams said, “Right off the bat, it is a preposterous sentence.”

The symposium “Deconstructing the Baby Veronica Case: Implications for the Future of the Indian Child Welfare Act” took place February 21 at Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut. Williams and Jacqueline Pata, Tlingit, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, joined Yale law student Claire Chung in the panel discussion.

The Supreme Court case was decided 5-4 on June 25, 2013 in favor of the white adoptive parents versus enrolled Cherokee citizen Dustin Brown, who lost custody of his daughter, Veronica Brown. In Williams’ opinion, the decision “was written by someone who does not grasp the foundational principles of Indian law and doesn’t understand tribal people and tribal communities.”

While Brown lost his daughter, the Supreme Court ruling did not challenge the Indian Child Welfare Act. “There are very few instances where the decision could be applied to other ICWA cases,” Williams said.

However, Williams noted that in the last nine Supreme Court cases, only one had been decided in favor of the tribes. “There is an effect of something larger in the continued trends in the U.S. Supreme Court. I am very disturbed by that. It is a scary thought,” Williams said.

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