by Elizabeth Sharon Morris

“They just took my baby after 3 years…her sobbing is forever etched in my soul. She wanted us to save her and we couldn’t. Devastated.”

An adoptive mother contacted CAICW on Facebook with this message at 1 am on Saturday, November 20, 2010, just hours after losing her little girl. CAICW cried with her. Why was this little girl, who screamed for her adoptive father to help her, taken – while he collapsed on the lawn, sobbing in grief?

Because she had tribal heritage.

While many argue that it is right and good that children of Native heritage be removed from non-Indian homes and turned over to tribal governments, many others question the policy. In this case, just five months after the little girl was taken, social services called the adoptive parents and asked if they would come and get her—immediately. Apparently the home she had been taken to “didn’t work out,” so now it was OK for her to return to the home they had torn her from just a few months prior. Of course, her parents immediately dropped everything to drive the two hours to get their little girl. When she saw them, the little girl threw herself into their arms and asked if she could finally “go home.”

On Friday, October 19, 2012, Indian Country Today (ICT) reported on the “Veronica” episode of a Dr. Phil Show that had aired the day before. ICT claimed that the show “attacked the ICWA, and undermined the significance of Native children remaining in their tribe and being immersed in their culture.” It also announced a grassroots Facebook campaign to boycott the “Anti-Native American” Dr. Phil Show. The mission of the campaign ICT says, “is to hold Dr. Phil McGraw accountable by boycotting until he agrees to have a show where QUALIFIED experts discuss ICWA’s importance.”

This is an interesting demand, considering the fact that there were two qualified “experts” on the set that day: Cherokee Nation Attorney Chrissi Nimmo and Judge Les Marston. Furthermore, Terry Cross of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) had been invited too, but declined to appear.

As a birth mother to children who are 50 percent tribal, I flatly refute claims by the tribal establishment that every single child of heritage “needs them.” No “tribal expert” knows our family or can speak for us. It is a myth that all tribal members want or need to be a part of Indian Country. Tribal members are individuals with their own minds and hearts.

The U.S. census shows that 75 percent of tribal members live off reservation. Some remain connected to Indian Country, but many extended families mainstreamed a long time ago. Many reject reservation life for the same reason our family does: it isn’t a safe place. Even though we love our extended family that live on the reservation, we choose not to live under a corrupt tribal government in a tract house surrounded by drugs, alcohol and violence. Not every Native person wants to live in or have their children exposed to these conditions.

Furthermore, most “enrollable” children have more than one heritage. This means that they have more than one family, more than one traditional culture, multiple people who love them, and no heritage is more or less important than another.

Tribal governments are now using the ICWA as a weapon to steal the rights and best interests of children, women and families across this country. Make no mistake—the Cherokee Nation alone has more than 100 attorneys targeting 1500 children across the United States who are in the process of being adopted. Many of these children, like Veronica, have less than 5 percent Cherokee heritage. Even that small heritage in many cases comes from families who at some point made deliberate CHOICES to leave Indian Country.

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