On Monday, the four-year-old Cherokee girl known as "Baby Veronica" was taken from her biological father and returned to her South Carolina adoptive parents — a devastating ending to a years-long custody battle that raised questions about tribal sovereignty, parents rights, and the Indian Child Welfare Act. According to the Native News Network, Veronica screamed, "I do not want to go!" as she was led away.
Cherokee Nation spokeswoman Amanda Clinton has confirmed that Baby Veronica was handed over to Matt and Melanie Capobianco of Charleston, S.C. This follows the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision to dissolve a temporary order allowing the child to remain with her biological father, Dusten Brown, and his family.
Brown (who is a member of the Cherokee nation), and the Capobiancos have fought for years over custody of Veronica. The child was adopted at birth by the Capobiancos, following legal confusion and mishandled paperwork — Brown gave up his parental rights, and the adoption was facilitated behind his back by Veronica's biological mother, Christina Maldonado. Brown claims that he was under the impression that he was simply signing over parental rights to Maldonado. He was never informed of her plan to put Veronica up for adoption. Although the Cherokee Nation should have handled the adoption, Maldonado's attorney misspelled Brown's name and botched his date of birth when filing paperwork with the Cherokee tribal court; as a result, the court was unable to verify that Brown was Cherokee and thus unable to state that the Indian Child Welfare Act — a law enacted by Congress in 1978 in order to prevent Native American children from being displaced from their communities — applied.
When Baby Veronica was 27 months old, a South Carolina family court awarded custody of Veronica to Brown under the ICWA; she's remained with him since. The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned this ruling. On July 31, 2013, the South Carolina trial court finalized Baby Veronica's adoption to the Capobiancos, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court later ruled that the child should not be transferred immediately from the custody of her biological father. Now that the custody negotiations have finally broken down, Veronica will return to her adoptive parents with whom she hasn't lived for nearly two years.
“Our hearts are heavy at this course of events,” said Terry Cross, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, in a statement. “Any other child would have had her or his best interest considered in a court of law. The legal system has failed this child and American Indians as well. Our prayers are with everyone concerned, but most of all with Veronica.”
"Baby Veronica Handed Over to Adoptive Parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco" [HuffPo]
Image via AP.