Manataka American Indian Council


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Baby Veronica and the Indian Child Welfare Act


In June, the Supreme Court decided the case of “Baby Veronica,” a (now) 4-year old child of Dusten Brown, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and her non-Native adoptive parents in South Carolina. The Court determined that the Indian Child Welfare Act did not apply in this case, because the purpose of the Act is to preserve family and tribal relationships. Although Dusten Brown had petitioned for custody of this daughter since 4 months after her birth, he had never succeeded, so there was no “relationship” to preserve, according to the Court’s decision. The National Indian Child Welfare Association offers some analysis of that decision here.  


The story is far from over, however. In the last three months, while Veronica is in the temporary custody of Dusten Brown’s wife and parents on Cherokee lands, he has continued to try to halt the adoption and retain custody. Both he and the potential adopting parents have pursued cases in both South Carolina and Oklahoma courts, which have yielded contradictory results. At one point, the South Carolina courts issued a warrant for Brown’s arrest for interference in a custody order. The governor of South Carolina ordered Brown’s extradition from Oklahoma. A hearing on the extradition order is scheduled for October 3 in an Oklahoma court.


The case is no longer about the Indian Child Welfare Act; hearings coming up are supposed to address the best interest of the child. The child’s best interest is normally interpreted to be with his or her biological family, unless there are compelling reasons, such as abuse, to remove the child. For more information on the various twists and turns in the case, see the National Indian Child Welfare Association site.


Meanwhile, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a statement demanding that the United States “take all necessary measures to ensure the wellbeing and human rights” of Veronica Brown.” James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, urged that “Veronica’s human rights as a child and as member of the Cherokee Nation, an indigenous people, should be fully and adequately considered in the ongoing judicial and administrative proceedings that will determine her future upbringing. The individual and collective rights of all indigenous children, their families and indigenous peoples must be protected throughout the United States.”


In an Oct. 10 press conference at his attorney’s office, Cherokee Nation citizen Dusten Brown said the time has come for his daughter Veronica to have a normal childhood and that he’s giving up the legal fight for the 4-year-old.