OKLAHOMA CITY - An American Indian child was removed from her father's home on Sept. 23 and placed with her adoptive non-native parents in a move widely criticized by Native American groups who see the decision as one in a long struggle of removing Indian children from their homes.
The decision seems to bring to an end a tumultuous case that worked its way through courts in South Carolina and Oklahoma and went as high as the United States Supreme Court.
The little girl, Veronica Brown was at the center of the case between her biological father, Dusten Brown, a Cherokee, her birth mother and the South Carolina couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, her adoptive parents.
Veronica's father was estranged from Christinna Maldonado, her birth mother, at the time of Veronica's birth. He did not have custody of Veronica before the South Carolina court, after 18 months with the Capobiancos, ordered her transfer to Brown because of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Brown contested the adoption under the ICWA and won his case in trial court and on appeal with the state supreme court. However, he lost his case with the United States Supreme Court when a majority of the justices said the ICWA did not apply. When the case was returned to the South Carolina courts in July, the state court finalized Veronica's adoption and ordered her transfer to the Capobiancos.
After challenges in Oklahoma by Brown, which included a stay of transfer by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the stay was lifted on Sept. 23 after the court decided it did not have jurisdiction in the case. U.S. Marshalls removed Veronica from her father's home that evening.
Dusten and his wife Robin Brown released a statement a few days after the transfer recalling the instant connection he had with his daughter when he first picked his daughter up two years ago.
"We looked into each other's eyes and it was like we had always been together. That bond was instantaneous, and nothing can break it. Veronica is my child, my flesh and blood, and I love her more than life itself," Brown said in a statement.
He added that the last few days without his daughter in his home had been extremely painful.
"We are heartbroken at the loss of our daughter," the statement read. "I moved heaven and earth for two years to bring Veronica home to her family where she belongs."
The Cherokee Nation officials said they used every legal option to keep the family together, but in the end, they had to obey the law. They said they do not argue with the concept of adoption, however, they would like to see and will advocate for a greater understanding of, and adherence to, laws by the courts and adoption agencies to ensure that tragedies like this one are not repeated.
"There is no word for goodbye in the Cherokee language. We say dodadagohv'I - we will see each other again," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. "History is repeating itself, as a Native American child is being forcibly relocated to South Carolina against the will of her father and her tribe."
Other Native American groups echoed those comments seeing this decision as another in a long line where the rights and best interests of the child were not taken into account.
"Our hearts are heavy at this course of events," said Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, in a statement. "The legal system has failed this child and American Indians, as well."
The transfer the case drew the attention of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, who called on the relevant state, federal and tribal authorities in the U.S. to take all necessary measures to ensure the well-being and human rights of Veronica.
"I encourage the United States to work with indigenous peoples, state authorities and other interested parties to investigate the current state of affairs relating to the practices of foster care and adoption of indigenous children, and to develop procedures for ensuring that the rights of these children are adequately protected," Anaya said.
In the end, while national groups have sued for the protection of Veronica's rights, most are left with the memory of a long struggle that Baker said has had the same outcome today as it has over decades.
"Once again, a Native American is being told where to live," Baker said. "Once again, a Native family is being torn apart. And once again, a young Indian girl will not awaken in the home of her elders."
The Browns' final message to their daughter read, "And to our daughter, Veronica-Mommy and Daddy love you and miss you so much, and we cannot wait until we see you again. We will see you again."