Sep 26 2013
Should a biological father be able to get his daughter back almost two years after she was adopted? What if the little girl was Native American and the parents who adopted her were not? This, in a nutshell, is the complex case of Baby Veronica, a little girl caught in the center of a prolonged custody battle which has had broader implications about the rights of historically disenfranchised Native American people in the United States.
Baby Veronica was born in 2009 of a Cherokee father, Dusten Brown, and a non-native mother. When Brown and the mother decided not to marry, the mother chose to offer her baby up for adoption to a white couple named Matt and Melanie Capobianco as soon as she was born.
Although Brown had originally decided to relinquish his parental rights, not knowing about the adoption, when he found out about the Capobiancos adopting Veronica four months after her birth he took action. However, Brown is a US Marine and his deployment to Iraq and errors in the adoption paperwork complicated the situation.
Brown ultimately used the Indian Child Welfare Act to try to regain custody of his daughter. The act was put into place in 1978 to address the mass separation of native children from their families. In the end, despite a long-drawn out emotional legal battle which included a US Supreme Court ruling that denied the use of the Indian Child Welfare Act and ruled in favor of the adoptive parents, the now 4 year old girl was handed back to the Capobiancos on Monday. The Capobiancos have decided to sue Veronica’s biological father Dusten Brown for half a million dollars in legal fees.
GUEST: Sarah Deer, Associate Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law. She is also a Citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma