Written by the Denver Chapter of INCITE! and informed by the work of many. Please scroll to the bottom for action steps.
On June 25, 2013, Justice Alito issued a ruling on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court stating the Indian Child Welfare Act was incorrectly applied by the South Carolina Supreme Court, which had previously given Dusten Brown custody of his biological child. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s order, the South Carolina Supreme Court immediately issued that Veronica’s adoption by the Capobianco family be finalized and she be transitioned back to her adoptive family. Chief Justice Toal refused all petitions for rehearing and closed the case, sending the ruling straight to the Charleston County Family Court to complete the transfer of Veronica from Brown to the Capobianco. On July 31, 2013, the family court issued the Capobiancos with their official adoption decree.
Breaking news: According to USA Today, The Oklahoma Supreme Court has granted an emergency stay to keep a 3-year-old Cherokee girl with her biological father and heard arguments from his lawyers and those of the girl’s adoptive parents today, September 3rd, 2013, in a closed hearing. This case is not over yet and we must continue to spread awareness and advocate for Baby Veronica.
Why Denver INCITE! supports Baby Veronica:
1. Heteropatriarchal supremacy hurts all communities of color.
The Denver Chapter of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence stands behind Dusten Brown as the rightful father of Baby Veronica and opposes the state’s continual displays of dominance over people of color and blatant disregard for the sovereignty of indigenous people. We must question the legitimacy of the settler nation’s actions and laws, which continue to promote colonialism and genocide. We fully believe that colonialism is not over and is demonstrated in cases such as Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl which shows the bias and true function of the law. Although all communities of color are harmed in different ways, colonialism and patriarchy continue to be a threat to all people of color. In “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy”, Andrea Smith (scholar and co-founder of INCITE!) discusses how slavery, genocide, colonialism, orientalism, and war all function to support white heteropatriarchal supremacy. Additionally, adoption cases in the U.S. continue to tear apart indigenous families and families of color at disproportionate rates, due to the effects of criminalization and poverty resulting from capitalism and colonialism.
2. The law threatens feminism by undermining non-nuclear families.
How can progressives and feminists continue to fight for the “separation of church and state” when presidents such as George W. Bush have openly supported faith-based initiatives through organizations that attempt to separate families of color? The agency which Veronica’s birth mother contacted, Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency, is the same organization George W. Bush has publicly thanked. Furthermore, the attorney representing the Capobianco family is also representing the adoptive family of Baby Desari, which is another case in which a South Carolina family has attempted to seize a Native child. As Laura Briggs deduces, it seems suspicious that both children were displaced from their birth families by the state of South Carolina, which she explains is a state where to “have standing in an adoption case, fathers must have lived with the birth mother for at least six months prior to the birth of the child, and to have provided financial support, neither of which Brown had done”. Briggs further questions how feminists are not threatened by the notion of an unmarried father exercising his right to have a voice in the adoption case of his biological child. She explains how with 48 percent of children being born to single mothers, it is an attack to feminism that some states are claiming “ICWA should only apply when it disrupts an ‘existing Indian family,’ a standard that has been interpreted very narrowly—a married heterosexual couple living on a reservation”. The state favors conservative notions of family, threatening both single parents and LGBTQ families.
In Andrea Smith’s book Conquest, she addresses how the “patriarchal society is a dysfunctional system based on domination and violence” and shares how “Karen Warren argues that patriarchal society is a dysfunctional system that mirrors the dysfunctional nuclear family”. If marriage is the only way to access the “privilege” of raising one’s own children, we see a narrow interpretation of civil liberties excludes many people. When the white heteropatriarchal state chooses to uphold law over bloodline connection, we see how the law fails to protect those of us who are most marginalized.
3. The theft of Baby Veronica echoes a long history of theft from Native people.
Smith also argues states that “in order to colonize a people whose society was not hierarchical, colonizers must first naturalize hierarchy through instituting patriarchy. Patriarchal gender violence is the process by which colonizers inscribe hierarchy and domination on the bodies of the colonized”. We see this institutional patriarchy play out repeatedly throughout history. For example, Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. William McIntosh (1823) has many parallels to Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (2013). The 1823 ruling stated that the “U.S. government holds exclusive rights to extinguish the Indian title of occupancy, either by purchase or conquest”. The courts upheld that because Native people did not own land legally, the state could therefore claim ownership and grant ownership to other parties without consent of Native people. The Native inhabitants were seen as being people to be protected and relocated, while not granted the agency to own land. Similarly, we see the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling, favoring the adoptive couple, making similar arguments below:
(a) Section 1912(f) conditions the involuntary termination of parental rights on a heightened showing regarding the merits of the parent’s “continued custody of the child.” The adjective “continued” plainly refers to a pre-existing state under ordinary dictionary definitions. The phrase “continued custody” thus refers to custody that a parent already has (or at least had at some point in the past). As a result, §1912(f) does not apply where the Indian parent never had custody of the Indian child. This reading comports with the statutory text, which demonstrates that the ICWA was designed primarily to counteract the unwarranted removal of Indian children from Indian families. See §1901(4). But the ICWA’s primary goal is not implicated when an Indian child’s adoption is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights. Non-binding guidelines issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) demonstrate that the BIA envisioned that §1912(f)’s standard would apply only to termination of a custodial parent’s rights. Under this reading, Biological Father should not have been able to invoke §1912(f) in this case because he had never had legal or physical custody of Baby Girl as of the time of the adoption proceedings. Pp. 7–11.
The argument being made is that Brown did not have the right of custody to begin with and that ICWA does not protect a right that never existed. We see a connection between colonizers’ justification of land ownership as “established by God” and the modern day colonizers’ justification of ownership of a baby girl as “established by law”. In the words of Andrea Smith, “Native bodies will continue to be seen as expendable and inherently violable as long as they continue to stand in the way of the theft of Native lands”, or a child in this instance. Both Baby Veronica and Dusten Brown are being moved from the jurisdiction of one state to another, as agents owned and operated by U.S. empire.
4. The U.S. has a longstanding history of using Christian imperialism to take Native children from their homes and into boarding schools and forced adoptions.
Conservative concepts of what constitutes a family have been in existence since settler America, so much so that white supremacy and Christian imperialism are closely represented in the law. In the 17th century, Puritan missionaries attempted to “civilize” Natives by separating children from their indigenous biological families. Due to Grant’s Peace Policy in 1869, the state funded Christian missionaries’ attempts to colonize Natives through Christian imperialism. In 2013, we continue to see how white supremacy and Christian imperialism have worked hand in hand to uproot and dismiss Native sovereignty by taking the law into the state’s jurisdiction and not those of tribal courts.
In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Welfare Act (ICWA), as a response to the absurd rate at which children were taken from tribes and put into foster care, adoption, and boarding schools. The majority of these children were taken because Native families did not conform to the dominant society’s view of nuclear family norms. For example, many Native children reside with many adults and extended family members, but because two biological parents are not in the picture, the state defines this type of parenting as “neglect”. Both cultural and physical assimilation have been and continue to be forced upon children. Although taking indigenous children from their Native homes initially began with the realization that cultural genocide is simply more affordable than physical genocide, violence began to be disguised as a form of charity from the church and the state, two historically violent and intertwined systems. We see the abduction of a child disguised as proper caretaking in a privileged Western mindset. The problem with the “white savior” is their inability to see damage caused due to misguided beliefs that one is “saving” a child from families that dare be in poverty or have non-nuclear definitions of families, rather than seeing the structural and historical roots that have caused poverty and annihilated both the resources and sovereignty of Native people. Christian right groups continue to organize against against ICWA, claiming it encourages abortion and stands in the way of adoption. This belief has led to an abduction of Indian children into the adoption and foster care system, continuing colonialism and keeping children from their ancestral and cultural roots. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs speaks to the shared blame of the state and the church in “the loss of language through forced English speaking, the loss of traditional ways of being on the land…and the learned behavior of despising Native identity.” Through adoption, the state attempts to extinguish indigenous people from history and existence.
5. The law will criminalize people of color to force them into submission.
“More than 30,000 courageous individuals came together to stand up for Veronica’s rights – we became her voice” is the motto of Save Veronica, a conservative organization backing the Capobiancos. Their website also exclaims “22 days – number of days Veronica has been kept illegally from her parents”. Twenty-two days and counting of “illegal” holding of a child contrasted to centuries of domination by the U.S. empire shows how the government continues to criminalize people of color for holding onto their humanity and rights. Propaganda used to incriminate Dusten Brown as partaking in “illegal” activity is similar to the way many people of color have been incriminated as aliens to the state. From undocumented immigrants being made to be “illegal” to the violence and incarceration of black/brown folks on the basis of racial profiling to the removal of a baby girl from her family and land, we are all threatened by the law and its limitations.
6. Our families are not safe when it is legally justifiable to separate them.
Coya White Hat- Artichoker draws a “parallel between what is happening to Native children in the United States and what is happening to immigrant children through the deportation process”. In accordance with our founding pillars of unity, the Denver Chapter of INCITE! recognizes the state as the central organizer of violence which oppresses women of color and our communities. We recognize these expressions of violence against women of color as including colonialism, police brutality, immigration policies, and reproductive control.
7. The SCT decision denying the rights of the Cherokee Nation are based on a eugenicist blood quantum politics that racializes Native peoples rather than recognizing the sovereignty of Native nations.
According to Coya White Hat- Artichoker, “The Cherokee determine citizenship through lineage. Veronica’s membership in the Cherokee Nation is not defined by a measured blood quantum but rather she is Cherokee because her father is an enrolled member of the tribe. As a citizen recognized by the Cherokee Nation, Brown’s parental rights should be protected by the ICWA, as that is the intent of the law. It was designed to protect Native children and Indigenous nations by prioritizing adoptions from within the tribe.”
Jacqueline Keeler in Native Condition shares how “we must do away with blood quantum across the board. It taints Tribal Sovereignty and citizenship to thoroughly for the public to accept and those who want to reduce or eliminate tribal power are finding it a handy tool for turning public opinion against us. Even Supreme Court Justice Alito began his majority opinion saying, “this case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2 percent (3/256) Cherokee.” This despite the fact that the Cherokee Nation does not even use blood quantum as a requirement for membership but it was the question most asked by the Conservative Justices when considering the case. Justice Sotomayer in her dissent had to correct this presumption that blood and thus race were in anyway relevant to the decision at hand. But the writing is on the wall and in the Justice’s questions; blood quantum is political death for Tribes and we must give it the heave-ho.”
The Denver Chapter of INCITE!
What can we do?
1. Tweet at Governor Mary Fallin @GovMaryFallin who signed extradition papers for Veronics’s biological father. Tell her you don’t agree with her comments:
“Unfortunately, it has become clear that Dusten Brown is not acting in good faith. He has disobeyed an Oklahoma court order to allow the Capobiancos to visit their adopted daughter and continues to deny visitation. He is acting in open violation of both Oklahoma and South Carolina courts, which have granted custody of Veronica to the Capobiancos. Finally, he has cut off negotiations with the Capobiancos and shown no interest in pursuing any other course than yet another lengthy legal battle.
“As governor, I am committed to upholding the rule of law. As a mother, I believe it is in the best interests of Veronica to help end this controversy and find her a permanent home. For both of these reasons, I have signed the extradition order to send Mr. Brown to South Carolina.”
Email her here or call her at (405) 521-2342.
2. Contact Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, who signed warrant for extradition of Dusten Brown. Call her at (803) 734-2100 or email her here.
2. Ask organizations that you are a part of to put out similar statements or sign onto ours to show support. This is an issue that threatens all of us.
3. Simply sign on to our statement by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving a comment in the comment box.
4. Educate others on this issue by tweeting #KeepVeronicaHome and sharing our statement.
5. Sign this petition to the White House and spread the petition widely among your organization’s members and friends!