COLUMBIA — News reports on the “baby Veronica” case bring back the trauma Jacqueline Davis experienced as a child when she and her sisters were removed from the care of their mother, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Davis, 32, two of her sisters and her parents were part of a panel discussion Tuesday at the University of South Carolina School of Law on the Indian Child Welfare Act.
All of the panelists said the act, which was enacted in 1978 to help keep children with their tribes, is as important today as it was when it was first enacted. And they hope that the “baby Veronica” case, on which the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday, would not be decided in a way that would weaken it.
The act was designed to stem a tide of children leaving American Indian families through adoption and foster care. But attorneys for Matt and Melanie Capobianco, the couple who took Veronica home to James Island shortly after her birth, argued that her biological father shouldn’t have those rights as a parent to block adoption proceedings because he hadn’t expressed interest in the child or supported the mother during the pregnancy.
Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, learned of the adoption four months later and promptly challenged it through ICWA.
His attorneys argued that the law gives him the opportunity to halt the adoption because of his biological link to the child.
Susan Dunn, S.C. Legal Director for the ACLU, said the child’s name isn’t even Veronica anymore, but she didn’t say what her new name was.
Chief Bill Harris of the Catawba Indian Nation said pushing this case as the “baby Veronica” case instead of as a case about returning a child to her tribe was “a brilliant PR move.”
Dunn said the name implies she’s “an Italian child on James Island,” when she actually is an Indian child from Oklahoma.
Davis and her sisters said they wish the act had been enforced in their case so they could have returned to their parents in South Dakota.
Their mother, Phyllis Bald Eagle, said her father, a tribal chief, tried unsuccessfully to get the children back.
Her children, who are emotionally scarred from the experience, are Indian children, she said. “It’s within you. It’s your spirit.”
USC law professor Marcia Zug said she thinks the U.S. Supreme Court initially took the case to possibly overturn the ICWA.
But she doubts that will happen with the outpouring of support for Veronica to remain with her father.
“Adoptive families almost always look better” on the surface, Dunn said. “But this child was never free for adoption.”
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.