Dr. Phil and his bias toward ICWA
By : Evelyn Red Lodge
In review, the show’s heavy bias against the Indian Child Welfare Act was readily apparent although more lies just under the surface. Most of the Caucasian guests could be or are part of a coalition to amend the Indian Child Welfare Act to make Native children more adoptable by other races.
In the wake of backlash by Native Americans, a hot-button issue was created after talk show host Dr. Phil aired a story on the battle for custody over baby Veronica on the 18th. The lopsided views of many of the guests and audience members in favor of the adoptive parents was depicted best when the two adopted Native boys on the show said after they visited their Indian reservation, they wanted nothing to do with it. People laughed and clapped immediately.
The story involved a custody battle over the two-year-old Native American child in which the father won custody in the South Carolina Supreme Court pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act in July.
Baby Veronica as she is known was the center of a battle between (prospective) adoptive parents Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina and Dustin Brown who is Veronica’s Cherokee birth father. The Capobianco’s are not satisfied with the ruling and are currently petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States to have the custody battle heard.
What is not said on the show is that Dr. Phil loaded his guests with two members of the Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children and Families, according to local attorney and former tribal judge Lisa Cook of Rapid City.
Contrary to the name’s insinuation that the coalition helps Indian Children and their families, the coalition seeks to make it easier for non-Indians to adopt Indian children through amendments to legislation of the federal ICWA laws.
The history of the ICWA was not cited on the show. Instead, Johnston Moore who is listed as a founding member of the coalition, called the ICWA a racist law.
The ICWA was enacted in 1978 when Congress recognized that American Indian children were being removed from their families and tribes at an alarming or an unusually high rate. Several reports have cited as many as 25-35 percent of all Indian children were adopted out of their families mainly to non-Indian people.
The ICWA came at a time when the horrendous church-run boarding schools were being phased out and removal of Indian children for adoption was rampant. Some have called this practice a form of continuing genocide.
Dr. Phil’s guests for the show were the Capobiancos along with TV’s The Locator Troy Dunn, and an adoptive parent of Native American boys, Johnston Moore. Neither, Brown nor the birth mother appeared on the show, but Chrissi Nimmo who Assistant Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation, and Les Marston, tribal judge and attorney did appear.
No mention was made of the connection between Dunn and Moore. However, it appears on the coalition website that Troy Dunn and Johnston Moore are both members of the coalition, but Moore being a founding member.
What is more, Dr. Phil said on the show that Dunn brought the story to his attention.
On www.saveveronica.org, the site mentions its new “affiliation” with the coalition. Jessica Munday is the media contact for both the coalition and the website.
According to saveveronica.org “Jessica Munday is a mother of three young children, a close friend of Veronica’s adoptive family and birth mother and one of several individuals that launched the Save Veronica effort. She is also a founding member of the Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children and Families.”
Munday has also authored a petition to “ask lawmakers to consider the best interest of a child when dealing with child placement and adoption.”
Although this sounds very simple, the ICWA already has that provision. According to www.nicwa.org., “The intent of Congress under ICWA was to ‘protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.’ 25 U.S.C. § 1902. ICWA sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe.”
What was not said on the show, but appears in the South Carolina Supreme Court documents awarding custody to the father is that efforts by the mother and others to misrepresent the father’s status as American Indian were undertaken .
Attorney Lisa Cook said, “What’s interesting about this case is that the Supreme Court of South Carolina, in its majority opinion, specifies efforts that were undertaken taken by those involved in the adoption process, to conceal the tribal identity of the father.”
In a factual recitation represented in the South Carolina court documents, Cook said, “What had happened is that this couple was together living in OK. Not married, but engaged. She becomes pregnant and informs father, who is in the military and winds up being deployed in Iraq in January 2010, just two weeks before he was told about this (adoption issue). The court finds there were efforts to conceal the father’s status as a Native American. The child is born on September 15, 2009 after the adoptive couple hired an attorney for the birth mother. That attorney has written a letter in August 2009, a month before the birth, to the Cherokee Nation to ask about the birth father’s status as a member of the Tribe. However, that letter misspelled the birth father’s name and ‘misrepresented’ his birthdate. Because of these errors and omissions, the Cherokee Nation response to the inquiry states that although the Tribe could not find this person on the tribal rolls, they reserved the right to correct the statement should new or accurate information come to light. That was one month before the baby was born. It’s really important to look at the whole issue of the attempt to conceal.”
Cook furthered, “Mom did not give status of her presence or of the birth when she went to the hospital, allowed the prospective adoptive parents to cut the umbilical cord, and signed to terminate her own parental rights the next day. Mom testified she did not give the father notice of the birth and had refused all contact with Father and his mother. So, the father does not even know that the child is born. Nor does he know that Adoptive Couple (Capobiancos) take custody of the baby the next day and take her to South Carolina after the eight day waiting period required under Oklahoma law.”
Long story short, Cook said, in addition to the other deceptions, “Mom had to fill out an ICPC form for Oklahoma state officials before the prospective adoptive parents could take the baby to South Carolina. On that form, Mom circles ‘Hispanic’ on the form instead of ‘Native American.’ So, none of the bells and whistles are triggered when that form gets to the state.”
“In review of court information, had Jessica’s mother been truthful with the state and had Capobianco’s attorney provided the correct information about the father, this battle would not have taken place.”
In regards to S.C. law, Cook said, “Interpretation of ICWA requires that the child’s right to his/her connection with his extended family, culture, native religion and lifeways be considered in the analysis of the child’s best interests.”
She continued, “The lawsuit reflects a growing strategy of pro-adoption forces to use State law to divest putative fathers of their parental rights before the pregnant woman even gives birth. In this case, South Carolina amended its adoption statutes in 2010 to require putative fathers either to have cohabited with the mother for six months immediately prior to the baby’s birth, or to have paid hospital, doctor bills related to the pregnancy and birth…before any paternity has been established…in order to have standing to contest a subsequent adoption. In non-ICWA cases, this South Carolina statute has been interpreted by the State’s highest court as adequate to prohibit remiss fathers from contesting adoptions in the state.”
“The state statute is geared toward expediting adoptions and removing barriers for prospective adoptive parents. Unfortunately, these statutes do so at the expense of a putative father’s due process rights and the rights of Tribes as set forth in the ICWA, a federal statute.”
“ICWA protects the rights of parents against expedited consent to adoption by imposing federal statutory minima for termination of parental rights in adoption cases.”
After the show aired a Boycott Dr. Phil page was created on Facebook. The Dr. Phil Facebook page showed over 2,400 comments on this show alone, and the www.dr.phil.com website showed 628 comments by Oct 21. Just two days after the show aired, the National Indian Child Welfare Association published a response to the show on www.nicwa.org.
(Contact Evelyn Red Lodge at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note: This story contains excerpts that were published in the Native Sun News on Oct 31, 2012.