So the internet exploded this week as Baby Veronica was returned to her adoptive parents. Ultimately, it was the right decision. What concerns me is not really the aspects of this case, per se, but to the hateful reactions to it. Maybe it is because I am white. Maybe I just don’t get it. I fully accept that possibility. My ancestors may have known what it was like to be denied their heritage (Irish) but I have not. As a result, there are aspects of this case that I cannot even begin to understand. I do not see race as being a valid part of this, or any, custody dispute. Truth of the matter is, had her father been Latino instead of Cherokee, it would have never gotten this far.
A child of the ’80’s I cannot begin to understand the emotions and anger of the 1970’s regarding the Aboriginal Peoples of the United States. Thus, I cannot fully understand all of the reasons behind the Native Child Welfare Act. First and foremost, this law assumes a misconception that is, unfortunately, widely supported by Child Service Agencies (ok, they are not all cut from the same cloth but those that I have dealt with fit this roll) that biological is best. In a perfect world, that would be true. But this is not a perfect world. In my lifetime, I have seen far too many cases where this misconception has caused more harm than good. Because of doing all that is possible to keep kids with their biological families I have seen children neglected, abused, permanently disabled, and even killed. Perhaps this misconception is a result of our own ethnocentricity. Surly, we all believe that our family, values, culture, religion are what is best for our children. But what happens when things are not so simple. Shouldn’t we objectively look at what is best for the child and not allow biology and race be reason enough alone to base that decision?
First, let’s get this out of the way. I do not consider adoption as purchasing a child. It is not uncommon for adoptive parents (I have known several) to pay the medical expenses that may be accrued during a pregnancy. Since every parent pays these expenses I fail to see how it is much different for adoptive parents. A loving couple who are unable to have children, for whatever reason, are torn apart and heartbroken at the inability to have a child. Many have tried and failed. Many have tried and lost children. Sometimes, a couple finds it in their heart to give a home to a child not of their blood. Quite frankly, blood has very little to do with family. I have several adopted cousins. I, nor any member of my family, thinks less of them, loves them less, due to a silly thing like biology.
I am appalled by the reactions of many to the outcome of this case. Blatant racism appalls me. To be fair it is apparent of those one both sides of the issue. And just to get something off my chest there is no such thing as reverse racism. It’s just racism. If someone with dark skin dislikes someone because they have pale skin then that is racism. It is just as racist as if a person with pale skin dislikes a person with dark skin. Nothing reverse about it, just racism.
The adoptive parents of Veronica did not seek to purchase or steal a child from the Cherokee Nation. They sought to adopt a child. They were chosen by the child’s birth mother, a Latino (though I protest that this detail is unnecessary and has no bearing on the case at all), to raise the child in an open adoption. For the uninitiated an open adoption is one where the adoptive parents keep the biological family involved. So none of this ridiculous notion that being adopted by a white family was going to neglect her heritage, as the mother was always going to be involved. Then we come to the part where a legal adoption can be contested because of 1.2% of a child’s heritage. Let me break it down, it was contested in court that the mother of this child had NO RIGHT to decide the fate of her child based on the 1.2% of the child that was Cherokee. I have admitted that I cannot possibly understand the feelings and complexities of the Cherokee Nation but I cannot help but feel that this law is discriminatory.
We can play the he said, she said all day long. It is something fairly typical in custody cases. However, there is this one little thing people are grotesquely overlooking. The biological father signed away his rights. He didn’t sign a paper giving the mother full custody while he went overseas. Full custody by the mother is assumed in cases where the father has made no move to take a part in the child’s life…or pregnancy. He signed away his parental rights. Plain and simple. And he did so freely and willingly. He was not coerced. If he didn’t understand what he was signing that’s on him. If you want involvement in your child’s life, at any point in time, you do not sign away your parental rights to the other parent. You work with an attorney to establish a custody arrangement. Nowhere, in any case, do you sign away parental rights and expect to receive any form of contact.
For me, race/nationality is only important in this case for one reason, and only then because the law made it so. My objections to this case are quite simple. The rights of the mother, the choice of the mother, was overturned and ignored because the father, who signed away his rights, happened to have a minute percentage of Cherokee DNA. Period. End of sentence. Nothing else matters in this case, according to this law, but that tiny piece of DNA. Thus, effectively, putting the will of the Tribal Council ahead of the choice of the mother. This is taking choice away from mothers. This is wrong. And I highly doubt, that the law was written to purposely override a mother’s wishes as to who raises her child. Something tells me it has more to do with what happens to children in the foster system or those who, for one reason or another, become wards of the state. The law was written to make sure these kids are placed before the council before being removed from the tribe, not to deny a mother the choice of who is allowed to raise her child.