- Karen Vigneault - Helping Native Adoptees Search
- Soaring Angels (search help for adoptees)
- About Trace
- Split Feathers Study
- THE PLACEMENT OF AMERICAN INDIAN CHILDREN - THE NEED FOR CHANGE (1974)
- NEW: Study by Jeannine Carriere (First Nations) (2007)
- NEW STUDY: Post Adoption (Australia)
- Help for First Nations Adoptees (Canada)
- Reuters Investigates THE CHILD EXCHANGE (re-homing adoptees)
Monday, October 20, 2014
Sunday, October 19, 2014
I woke up with two thoughts: there are two victims of adoption who need help and not necessarily from each other: the adoptee and the first mother. Each has its own burden and neither can heal the other.
"...In some ways adoption practice is worse than it has ever been because it is based on even more fraudulent information than it ever was – the plight of transnational adoptees who are viewed as ‘orphans’ but are not; the deception of mothers who are led to believe they are giving the greatest gift of all in giving their baby for adoption; the attitude of young women to adoption, encouraged by the industry, the media and the lack of connect with what they are doing and the outcomes for the child; the idea that adoption is beautiful; the views that open adoption makes it all o.k. and so on. Since adoption practice gives the illusion of getting better but gets worse, you’d have to wonder "where to next?..."
Read it here: http://eagoodlife.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/naming/
READ THIS: 2010 news story from Colorado: http://www.boulderweekly.com/article-3990-judge-orders-woman-a.html
Deportation Cases: http://poundpuplegacy.org/deportation_cases
Earlier posts can be found in the 2012 archive on this blog. I am posting the links tomorrow to the six-part series on this topic...Trace
Friday, October 17, 2014
|Photos of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Murray Sinclair at Yale last fall (Photos by Trace)|
Tribunal into Ottawa’s handling of First Nations kids nearing its end after 7 years
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Released after 20 years in prison, Michelle Murphy trying to rebuild her life
- What happened to Michelle Murphy's other child?
- The family who adopted Murphy’s 2-year-old daughter had
already been approved for adoption by the Cherokee tribe in September
1995 when they received the call.
“They called and said, ‘We have a little girl and we’d like to put her in foster care with you,’ ” said the woman who adopted the curly-haired toddler. The adoptive family asked to remain anonymous to protect their daughter’s privacy.
“I fell in love with her the minute I saw her,” she said.
When the girl was in her mid-teens, her parents gave her the newspaper clippings from her birth mother’s arrest and trial. She knew from an early age she had been adopted, but learning about her family’s violent past helped explain things like her persistent nightmares.
The adoptive mother said she decided to visit Murphy in jail as she awaited trial. She gave Michelle pictures of her daughter and the women swapped stories about the toddler, with Michelle boasting about how early her daughter began walking.
“She was in her orange jumpsuit and shackled to a chair. ... I thought, ‘You are just a girl.’ ”
The adoptive mother said her daughter is now 22 and expecting her first child.
“She’s happy and had a wonderful life.”
Related: Discredited lab test was key to woman's wrongful conviction
Read Part 1: Records show mistakes, questionable evidence in woman’s overturned murder case
Twenty years to the day that Michelle Murphy found her son’s lifeless body on the kitchen floor, she heard Tulsa County District Judge William Kellough say the words she had been waiting for: “This court finds you, Miss Murphy, innocent.”
She cried in the courthouse hallway as her attorney, Sharisse O’Carroll, explained the date’s significance to reporters.
Though she’d been out of jail on bond for three months, it wasn’t until after Kellough’s declaration that Murphy was ready to do something she had never done: visit her son’s grave.
Murphy didn’t want to go to Travis’ grave until her name was cleared, O’Carroll said.
Murphy, 37, was released from prison on bond in May, when the judge vacated her life without parole sentence and murder conviction, based on newly uncovered DNA evidence.
And on Sept. 12, District Attorney Tim Harris decided to drop the murder charges and dismiss the case, saying he lacked the evidence to convict her again.
Murphy was 17 when she was imprisoned for the brutal slaying of her infant son. The same prosecutor who convicted Murphy also took away her 2-year-old daughter, placing the girl with another family.
Twenty years behind bars has given Murphy a lot of time to contemplate what happened to her.
“It meant the world to me to finally hear that it’s been acknowledged, something I’ve been trying to prove for 20 years,” Murphy told reporters after the charges were dismissed in September. “Something I’ve known in my heart.”
Murphy wrote letters to her daughter while she was in prison. She never got a response.
Her daughter, now 22, told the World she is not interested in getting to know her mother.
“They let me come to it on my own. ... There was never anybody who told me that she did it or she was a monster. For me, God put me in that position to really appreciate what I have today,” said the young woman, who wanted her name withheld.
Raised by her adoptive family, she said she enjoyed a happy childhood with plenty of love and support. She is expecting her first child, a girl.
Read the rest here: http://www.tulsaworld.com/homepagelatest/released-after-years-in-prison-michelle-murphy-trying-to-rebuild/article_0dbc825d-734b-5322-8710-02254038268f.html
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Land of Gazillion Voices: Seeking Justice When Systems Fail: Personal Responsibility in the Age of Child Removal #BabyVeronica #ICWA
Margaret Jacobs’s new book, A Generation Removed, provides a thoroughly documented and heart wrenching account of good intentions gone wrong, both in education and in child welfare. Jacobs’s specialization is women’s history, particularly the interactions between Indigenous and white women in settler nations such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. I appreciate Jacobs’ stance as a scholar all the more because she is a white feminist historian who is able to cast a critical eye on the contradictory roles often played by women of European descent. It was from reading Jacobs’s earlier work that I first encountered the Maternalism movement: the proto-feminist reformers of their day who asserted female authority and expertise (before American women could vote or hold elected office) into the public spheres usually reserved for male leadership.
Jacobs’s previous work, White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940, is a massive scholarly tome. I drew on this work for my keynote remarks to the 2013 KAAN (Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network) conference and at AAC (American Adoption Congress) 2014. White Mother to a Dark Race is a valuable resource, particularly for researchers with an interest in the origins of public school teaching and the social work profession. Having said that, White Mother is quite weighty and not nearly as accessible to lay readers as her latest book, A Generation Removed. Jacobs’s new book provides highly personal accounts that help readers to make sense of the social reform experiments in Indian child welfare and education from the perspective of the Native women who lost their children in the process.
Those of us wondering what can be done in contemporary times to halt the widespread practice of family disruption still perpetuated by the adoption industry will gain inspiration from the chapter explaining how the Indian Child Welfare Act came into existence in the 1970s. This largely untold story may also inspire activists who want to interrupt the vulture-like “baby lifts” in impoverished communities around the globe that search for “orphans” for the marketplace of adoption. Readers will learn not only the faulty reasoning that leads popular opinion-shapers such as television’s Dr. Phil (who sympathized with the Capobiancos, the adoptive parents in the Baby Veronica case) to characterize ICWA as a racist law. Readers will also learn how the valiant efforts of a committed group of researchers, child welfare practitioners, and first/birthmothers combined to create an effective coalition to get ICWA passed in order to protect Indian families.
Another way of putting it is this: There is no “post-adoption” until we have ended adoption, once and for all. Just as the boarding school experiment for Native American children has been discredited as genocidal, just as the Indian Adoption Program has been disbanded (you can read about its rise and fall in A Generation Removed), so too, I anticipate that the transracial and transnational adoption experiments will be replaced by a much more just and humane practice that is less about the business of selling children (and in the process, disrupting extended families of color), and more about ensuring justice and care for the most needy and vulnerable—namely, poor women of color and their children around the world.
John Raible has written a breathtaking article on how "child removal" affects us adoptees both past and present...It is true Margaret Jacobs has broken new ground in history with her new book A GENERATION REMOVED, and I am still reading it. It takes time to digest. After editing and writing three books on this topic myself, we have made HUGE STEPS in creating awareness of the Indian Adoption Projects and Programs that were genocidal in intent and purpose... We are living proof as American Indian Adoptees that we are resilient....Trace
Friday, October 10, 2014
He remembers being a boy who envied his friends when they talked about their dads — going hunting or fishing with their fathers, even doing ordinary things.
Abel pretended to not care. But in truth, he cared a lot.
The story of Abel Bosum starts with a clash of cultures and language. In the 1950s, a young Cree woman named Lucy Busom lived in a settlement near Chibougamau, Que. She met and fell in love with a French-Canadian who hailed from Quebec City, more than 500 kilometres away. They wanted to marry, but her parents refused.
Instead, following tradition, the elders arranged a marriage between Lucy and Sam Neepoosh.
No one talked much about Abel's biological father, so he grew up full of questions and feelings, but not even certain of the name of the man he missed. And that's how it remained — for 53 years.
It's not that Abel didn't have a father. He did; Sam adopted and raised Lucy's son, and Abel will always be grateful for that. Still, even a kind, adoptive parent couldn't fill the void where Abel pictured a "real dad."
'I did not know how to react, I did not know what I would say, and I certainly did not know what I would do when I met him.'- Abel BosumThen on a lovely summer day in 2008, the spectre of his father reappeared and shook Abel's life to the core.
By this time, Abel was was married with children and grandchildren.
A family friend reported seeing Abel's missing father in a shopping mall. That led to an intense search for a man whose name no one remembered.
Abel spoke to all the elders and, bit by bit, pieced together enough information for a computer search.
His dad's name: Cypien Caron.
Try to imagine Abel at this point: He was 53 years old, a successful Cree negotiator who has his own consulting firm. He was sitting in his car in front of a suburban home, "stalking" a man he thought might be his father.
"These were very unsettling moments," said Abel.
"[It] made me feel like a young boy again. I was experiencing strange feelings that I had never had before, and I was in turmoil. I did not know how to react, I did not know what I would say, and I certainly did not know what I would do when I met him. "
On Aug. 19, 2008, father and son finally met in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, Que.
After years of wondering what that moment would be like, Abel describes it like this: "He reached out to me, hugged me and whispered, 'My son, I am so happy. I love you!'"
It is the fantasy of many adopted children. For Abel it was a reality — Cypien Caron was happy to connect with the child he was never allowed to father.
For the next six years, father and son spent a lot of time doing the things dads and boys might do — hunting and fishing. Abel's family was suddenly included in much larger family reunions.
Six years is a long time in some ways. It was far too short a time for Abel when he learned Caron was mortally ill. He was, however, able to spend the last days of his dad's life at his bedside, with enough time to both of them to say everything that was in their hearts.
When his dad died, Abel wrote, “Cyprien, it broke my heart to lose you but you did not go alone, a part of me went with you the day God took you home. In life I love you dad, and in death I love you still, in my heart you will hold a place no one could ever fill!”
Abel Bosum is currently writing a book about Cyprien Caron and the way their lives connected. It will be published in the near future.
This make me cry like a baby...Trace
Thursday, October 9, 2014
| The Tununak Alaska Native Village is located on Nelson Island in the
Bering Sea. Forty-three percent of the village is comprised of children
under the age of 18.
The case involves a six-year-old Yup’ik child who was taken at the age of four months into state custody in 2008 and placed into a non-Native foster home in Anchorage. Subsequently, after the child’s mother had her parental rights terminated, the foster couple filed for adoption, which was granted in 2012.
Even though the child’s maternal grandmother had previously testified that she wished to raise her grandchild, and in direct contravention of the placement preferences specifically enumerated in section 1915 of ICWA, the Alaska Supreme Court, using a single sentence from last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Adoptive Couple v Baby Girl, ruled that the grandmother was ineligible because she had not filed adoption papers that legally signified her intent to adopt.
In its ruling, the Alaska Supreme Court asserted that “The [Supreme] Court’s initial overview of [Adoptive Couple] stated it was clarifying that § 1915(a) preferences are inapplicable if no eligible candidates ‘have sought to adopt the child,’ without using the word ‘formally.’ The Court did not hold that whether an eligible candidate has come forward is a matter of federal law. And it certainly did not hold as a matter of federal law that § 1915(a) can apply only when an eligible person has filed an adoption petition in state court.”
Further, the decision held that “It is not at all self-evident that this is what the Supreme Court meant, and it is even less self-evident that the Supreme Court impliedly created a monolithic federal rule trumping state court adoption procedures. The Court’s clarification certainly leaves room for states to determine under their own adoption procedures when an eligible candidate has come forward such that the preferences should be applied.”
RELATED: Some Disturbing Facts About Baby Veronica's Birth Mother
REALTED: Second Indian Infant Whisked to South Carolina for Quickie Adoption
The Alaska Assistant Attorney General Jacklyn Schafer told local media in Anchorage that the Tununak ruling hinged upon the methods by which the grandmother expressed her intention to adopt with the court.
“The question in this adoption appeal then became did the grandmother formally seek to adopt the child. Even though she didn’t file an adoption petition, or intervene in the adoption case, or attend the adoption hearing,” Schafer said, “she did testify in the related child in need of aid case placement hearing that she wanted custody.”
“That aspect of the Adoptive Couple [decision] really worried me at the time,” said Barbara Atwood, Mary Anne Richey Professor Emerita of Law and Director, Family and Juvenile Certificate Program at the University of Arizona School of Law. “Alito's opinion seemed to hold that 1915 preferences don't come into play if there is only one adoptive placement before the court. This could mean that a state and a tribe would be in a race to the courthouse. If the state proposes an adoptive placement and there is no ICWA-compliant placement yet identified, 1915 could be ignored.”
The National Indian Child Welfare Association issued a statement on Friday evening decrying the decision, which it contends is in direct defiance of both the letter and intent of the Indian Child Welfare Act.
“NICWA is disappointed by the decision of the Alaska Supreme Court in Native Village of Tununak II v the State of Alaska. Cultural knowledge and recent social science research tell us that children who are raised by family members have better long-term outcomes,” the statement read. “This decision was not only a failure to correctly interpret the law, but also a failure to understand what is in the best interest of this child. In its decision, the Alaska Supreme Court erred in its interpretation of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl.”
Atwood concurred on the legal notion that the Alaska Supreme Court has erred in allowing Adoptive Couple to control the outcome of this case.
“Whether [Adoptive Couple] should be applied in the context of an involuntary termination of parental rights is a more difficult issue,” said Atwood. “Breyer, as the necessary fifth vote, seemed to say in his concurrence [with the majority] that the holdings should be confined to the facts of the case. He was talking about the 1912 rulings, however, not the 1915 aspect.”
“Still, there's an argument that the Alaska court was wrong to view the issue as absolutely controlled by Adoptive Couple.”
According to NICWA, last week’s decision has created an even greater barrier for Native people and tribes to retain their children, which goes directly against the original intent when Congress enacted ICWA in 1978.
“This decision is not only counter to the letter and spirit of the Indian Child Welfare Act, but also creates additional burdens for Native family members wishing to adopt,” NICWA’s statement read. “Our court systems should not be thwarting family members stepping forward to provide loving homes. Instead, they should be doing everything in their power to support the best interest of these children and the families that deeply love them.”
RELATED: Baby Veronica's Birth Mother Files Suit, Claims ICWA Unconstitutional
RELATED: The Gloves Come Off: Civil Rights Suit Filed as Adoption of Veronica Finalized
Today, as more cases – both challenging and upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act – continue to fill court dockets across the country, references to “Baby Veronica” and Adoptive Couple v Baby Girl are present in nearly every single pleading before the courts, as well as every single ruling handed down. The recent appellate ruling in CFS v J.E. et al, and the previous overturn of the adoption of an Absentee Shawnee girl from Oklahoma are merely indicative, say experts, of the decision in Adoptive Couple that continues to create confusion and confrontation between the tribes and the states.
As such, Adoptive Couple and its aftermath continues to reverberate throughout Indian Country, with more attention than ever being paid to the 35-year-old statute that had little media attention before the epic battle over ICWA played out before the entire world. Because or perhaps in spite of Veronica, states, tribes and tribal members, particularly in Oklahoma, California and South Dakota, are beginning to push for greater enforcement and tighter restrictions in the foster care and adoption of Native American children under the Indian Child Welfare Act.
In a statement from the Cherokee Nation, assistant attorney general Chrissi Nimmo discussed the impact of Baby Veronica and her hope for the continued application of ICWA for all tribes.
“I think of Veronica and the entire Brown family often. I know that all of Cherokee Nation misses her and hopes for the best for her,” says Chrissi Nimmo, Assistant Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation who worked around the clock for over a year on this case. “If any lasting good comes from the case, it is that Veronica brought attention to ICWA and unethical adoptions. The Cherokee Nation will continue to strive to be a leader among tribes in ensuring ICWA compliance to make sure that native children are raised by their families and their tribes as ICWA intended and as it should be.”
Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/10/09/alaska-supreme-court-uses-baby-veronica-ruling-thwart-icwa-157265?page=0%2C1
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
The Lakota People's Law Project worked in association with A Positive Tomorrow and the Sioux Tribes of South Dakota to bring Indian tribes closer to running their own independently run foster care systems.
Two tribes of the Lakota Sioux Nation in South Dakota Indian Country have been awarded planning grants by the Department of Health and Human Services, marking a historic moment in the ongoing effort to stop the illegal State seizure of Lakota children by creating an independent tribal-run family services program administered for Lakota, by Lakota.
Both the Oglala Sioux Tribe at Pine Ridge and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe were awarded $300,000 planning grants by the United States Health and Human Services Agency, according to an HHS announcement released Friday, Oct. 3.
“This is a tremendous development,” said Oglala Sioux President Bryan Brewer. “ Credit goes first to all the tribes for our hard work, and second to A Positive Tomorrow, whose expertise in grant applications of this specific kind has been indispensable to this achievement, and finally to the Lakota People’s Law Project who has worked for years with us for this structural change.”
“Our children are sacred, and they are our future,” said Chase Iron Eyes, spokesperson from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project. “This is a significant victory for the Lakota people and for indigenous people across the United States and around the globe, and it marks the beginning of a major effort to build our tribal capacity so we can take care of our children and families.”
Jesse Taken Alive, former Chairman of Standing Rock said, “ We will be working on our constitutions, our customary laws and traditions, our Court system, our codes, our available buildings, our kinship and foster care networks, our educational access to Masters Degrees, our creation of these permanent jobs, and our trauma and parent training based on our own values. This effort will strengthen our families and build tribal capacity across our structures.”
Yvonne Ito of A Positive Tomorrow, who worked diligently with seven tribes to ensure the applications were high grade, joined Iron Eyes in expressing a sense of triumph while cautioning that much work remains. “We are pleased that these two tribes will embark on a journey of sovereignty, and we will continue to fight for the other five Sioux tribes to receive their planning grants as well.”
The Department of Health and Human Services gives five tribal planning grants per year, and this year they gave two in South Dakota, two in Alaska, and one in Arizona.
“I am committed to the tribes and to a working alliance with the Lakota People’s Law Project,” said Ito. “If we all continue to work together, all Lakota tribes will rise in this historic project with the People of the Seven Council Fires. There is a lot of work to be done and this latest benchmark only strengthens our resolve and determination to make sure it gets done successfully.”
The federal grants of $300,000 are distributed to each tribe by mid-October and will allow Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe at Pine Ridge, to begin planning and building capacity with a final goal of establishing foster care systems that will be run by the tribes independent of the state. Collective efforts will continue this month to achieve planning grants for the Yankton, Crow Creek, Cheyenne River, Flandreau, and Lower Brule Sioux tribes.
“It is crucial that we wrest control of our children’s future away from members of the state of South Dakota, who have proven over and over again that they do not have the best interests of our children and families at heart,” said Cheyenne River Grandmother Madonna Thunder Hawk. “Our children are not cash cows for federal money coming into the state economy, they are sacred and precious beings, our most valuable resource.”“The people best situated to care for our children are our own families and extended family network, which we call Tiospaye,” said Phyllis Young, Standing Rock Councilwoman and important initiator of the historic BIA Summit on Lakota Foster Care in 2013. “We have taken good care of our children for thousands of years. We have to heal from the trauma of the past 130 years and begin to build a positive future for our people.”
The Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP) has been working on foster care issues relative to the Native American children of South Dakota since 2005, partnering with tribes and leaders in South Dakota.
The tribes have been prompted to run their own foster care institutions after a 2011 report by National Public Radio asserted that the South Dakota Department of Social Services repeatedly and persistently violates the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, and receives roughly $65 million per year in federal money in the process. The federal money infusions for the South Dakota foster care program were detailed in Who’s Watching the Watchdog, a 2013 report by the Lakota People’s Law Project.
An average of 742 Native American children are removed from their homes in South Dakota on an annual basis, according to the United States Children' Bureau's "Child Welfare Outcomes: Reports to Congress." When controlling for the factor of poverty, South Dakota still ranks third in the nation for the highest number of children taken into custody by the Department of Social Services, according to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform's "2010 NCCPR Rate of Removal Index." This is true even though the state has a total population of only 844,000.
While Native American children constitute 13.5 percent of the child population in South Dakota, they comprise 54 percent of the youth foster care population, according to the Child Welfare Outcomes compiled by the Children's Bureau. South Dakota has allegedly continued to ignore stipulations in ICWA that mandate placement of Native American children in Native American homes, placing about 87 percent of Native children in non-Native homes, according to data provided by the South Dakota DSS to LPLP in an email in 2011.
“The state of South Dakota operates under a perverse incentive, where they actually stand to gain additional federal funding for their social services programs by taking Native kids from their homes and placing them in state-run foster care services,” said Sara Nelson of the Lakota People’s Law Project. “Most of the group homes are now psychiatric institutions, because they can charge the federal government three times as much per day.”This crisis prompted LPLP, after much grassroots research and legal analysis, to begin advocating a solution that entailed the tribes running their own independent and autonomous family services programs that include foster care homes.
“We were happy to see that Governor Daugaard has now endorsed the shifting of the federal money from the State to the tribes for foster care,” said Yankton Sioux Tribe Officer Sam Sully, referring to an announcement in the Argus Leader last year. “We are pushing forward to ask three Washington, D.C. agencies for our planning grant too.”
The two announced grants will arrive in mid October when the tribes will proceed immediately to hire qualified Planning Coordinators.
The planning grant applications were submitted for funding under the terms of the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, commonly referred to as the Baucus Act. The law introduced major changes to the Social Security Act, primarily in Section IV-E, regarding foster care and adoptions assistance payments to the states.
The Planning Grant program under the Baucus Act can award individual planning grants up to $300,000 to American Indian tribes and has a total annual budget of $3 million. Usually $1.5 million in grants, or 5 grants, are given each year. According to the Tribal Directory of the Bureau of Indian Affairs there are 566 federally recognized tribes. At this rate, the process could take upwards of 100 years.
In total, eight out of the nine Lakota tribes in South Dakota have already received or applied for the grants. Five are asking for further review in Washington, D.C.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
The 10 proposals, contained in a reported entitled Bringing our Children Home, include a sharp reduction in the number of group homes and foster families centralized in Winnipeg.
First Nations have been empowered for a decade to run their own child welfare system on the basis of an agreement struck with the provincial government. But practically since its inception, First Nations, especially chiefs, have been at loggerheads with the government over how to run the system at reserve level.
ANCHORAGE — In a split decision, the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled against the village of Tununak, which was appealing a lower court’s decision that allowed an Alaska Native infant to be adopted by non-Native parents rather than giving custody to her extended biological family in the tiny Western Alaska community. The Supreme Court’s ruling this month upholds an earlier Superior Court ruling that concerns about the baby girl’s well-being trumped legal preferences built into a federal law designed to keep children from being adopted away from their Native American communities when possible.
According to the state Supreme Court opinion released Sept. 12, this is what happened: The Office of Children’s Services took custody of the girl — called by the pseudonym “Dawn” to protect her true identity — in July of 2008, when she was 4 months old. There is little mention of the reason for that action in the Supreme Court opinion, but Dawn’s mother apparently suffered from mental health issues and drug addiction. There is no mention of her father in the 41-page opinion.
Because Dawn’s biological parents were Alaska Native, a provision of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act said that state officials had to consider putting her in the custody of a member of her extended family, with other members of her tribe, or with another Native family.
One option for Dawn was her grandmother, whom Tununak tribal officials put forward as a candidate to adopt Dawn. But in meetings about putting Dawn into foster care with the grandmother, the Office of Children’s Services learned an adult son lived in the house, and his particular criminal history meant Dawn could not live there. So for foster care, Dawn was placed with a family in Anchorage, where her biological mother lived and could visit her.
In August of 2009, the grandmother told the state social workers that her son had moved out and that she was still interested in being Dawn’s foster care guardian. That December, a representative from the Association of Village Council Presidents, working on behalf of the Office of Children’s Services, visited the grandmother’s home in Tununak and noted some problems.
“These included unsecured guns, cleaning supplies, medicine, and general clutter in the area that (the grandmother) planned to use as Dawn’s bedroom,” the Supreme Court opinion says.
In February 2010, the grandmother said she would take care of the problems in her house, but she had still not done so by that May, and she inquired about the possibility of Dawn being returned to her mother.
A Superior Court judge disagreed, saying that would not happen because of the mother’s mental health and substance abuse issues, and ultimately terminated the mother’s parental rights in September 2011.
With a decision pending on a new request by the tribe for preferential placement under the Indian Child Welfare Act, the foster family in Anchorage filed to adopt Dawn.
The grandmother, now with renewed interest, testified at a subsequent court hearing on the adoption that it was her right to adopt and raise the girl as an Alaska Native, “because she is part of my flesh and blood and so that she can learn her values in Native culture and traditions and where she came from.”
But the Superior Court judge said the grandmother’s testimony had been “less than convincing” and that she only wanted to adopt Dawn because it was what the tribe wanted. In March of 2012, the judge gave custody of Dawn to the Anchorage family. She was nearly 4 years old at that point.
The tribe appealed the decision, and, in the meantime, a similar case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court. That custody case resulted in the justices finding that the Native-placement preference did not apply.
The U.S. Supreme Court wrote “this is because there simply is no ‘preference’ to apply if no alternative party that is eligible to be preferred … has come forward.”
In the Alaska case, Dawn’s grandmother had stopped pursuing custody, and nobody else from her family or tribe had filed an adoption petition, the majority of Alaska Supreme Court justices wrote in their opinion. Therefore, giving custody to the Anchorage family was the right thing to have done, wrote justices Dana Fabe, Peter Maassen and Joel Bolger.
Two justices, Daniel Winfree and Craig Stowers, disagreed. In their dissenting opinion, Winfree wrote that the other justices had overstated the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court decision and understated the adoption proceedings in the case involving Dawn and Tununak. And the justices in the majority were wrong in saying Dawn’s grandmother did not make an effort to adopt the girl just because she did not file formal paperwork to do so, Winfree wrote, calling the majority’s opinion an “adherence to form over substance.”
“If Dawn’s grandmother is a suitable adoptive placement, then, in light of (the Native preference law) and absent good cause to deviate from its preferences, the current adoption should be vacated and Dawn should be placed with her grandmother for eventual tribal or state court adoption,” Winfree wrote.
Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka said Monday the federation’s members were worried about the precedent the state Supreme Court’s decision would set.
“This decision is a disservice to our children,” Kitka said in a written statement. “The formal petition for adoption is a very complicated process that requires the assistance of a lawyer that the majority of Alaska Native families cannot easily afford.”
Staff writer Casey Grove is the News-Miner’s Anchorage reporter. Contact him at 770-0722 or follow on Twitter: @kcgrove.
National Native News coverage
Congress enacted the ICWA to protect the best interests of Indian children and to prevent the erosion of tribal ties and cultural heritage by preserving future Indian generations. In enacting the ICWA, Congress declared that “it is the policy of this Nation to protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture…” (25 U.S.C. § 1902.)