On Monday afternoon, Los Angeles County authorities removed a six-year-old Choctaw girl from her longtime foster family. The case has generated significant coverage because the girl, who goes by Lexi, was removed under the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal act that gives tribal governments a voice in child custody cases involving Native children in order to stem the breakup of families.
For the last five years, Lexi had lived with foster parents Rusty and Summer Page. On Sunday, in a last-minute appeal, the Pages started a Facebook group called “Save Lexi,” releasing the minor child’s name in defiance of a court order. When authorities came to remove Lexi on Monday, the house was surrounded by prayer groups and protestors indicating the contentiousness of the case. In footage shot during the custody exchange, Summer Page and her children scream and cry while protestors sing.
In an interview, Rusty Page said that Lexi was part of the family and indicated that the Pages attempted to adopt the girl. “We never use the word foster sister, foster daughter; it’s sister and daughter,” Page told the Los Angeles Times.
Page said that when he and his wife became the girl’s foster parents, she “came to us scared and confused.” Now, he said, she is the “happiest, sweetest, kindest girl you ever met,” who loves to play with the couple’s children and to color and swim.
The custody battle is unsurprisingly bitter. The Pages have accused the Choctaw Nation of “dictating where this child goes.” The Choctaw Nation, on the other hand, said that they have advocated for Lexi’s return since she was placed with the Pages. In a statement the tribe said:
“The Pages were always aware that the goal was to place [the girl] with her family, and her permanent placement has been delayed due to the Pages’ opposition to the Indian Child Welfare Act.”
Indeed, records show that the Pages were told when they initially tried to adopt Lexi that she was never up for adoption. The girl has sisters as well as extended family in Utah; she will live with a couple who are the legal guardians of one of her sisters. The couple are, according to Indian Country Today, “non-Indian relatives of Lexi’s biological father” but “fall within the familial placement preferences under ICWA.” Lexi has visited with them every month for the last few years.
In a statement, the National Indian Child Welfare Association criticized the media’s treatment of the case:
“The purpose of foster care is to provide temporary care for children while families get services and support to reunite with their children, not to fast-track the creation of new families when there is extended family available who want to care for the child.”
In a post on Save Lexi, the Pages thanked their supporters and promised to “keep fighting” :
“We know many people are angry and we are, too, but we must remember to focus our angry rightly. This is not a fight against the Native American community, or the Choctaw Community, or Lexi’s extended family, biological or otherwise. We have many Native American supporters, and we have many non-Native detractors. This is not about race. This is about justice for a 6 year old child who, against her wishes, was heartlessly ripped from her dad’s arms by people paid by our tax dollars. Remember, Summer Page is part Native and the Page family regularly attended powwows even before she came to live in their home. If you want to channel your anger, please point it in the direction of Los Angeles County DCFS, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Children’s Law Center of California, and the Choctaw Nation’s Government. And please continue to focus on your elected officials and ask them to intervene in this case, and to pass legislation to prevent this from happening to other children like Lexi. Thank you all and keep fighting!”
Image via CNN.