I can't. I physically, emotionally, mentally haven't been able to write in the last few days about the Veronica Brown custody/ adoption situation. I've tried. I woke up at 3 in the morning and after I hugged my Indian baby daughter tight, kissed her on her forehead, tucked her tightly in to bed, hugged her again and smoothed her hair away from her face I went out to my porch and sat in the cold night air. The sky was filled with stars. I kept thinking I'd found new stars but they were mostly planes. I watched clouds move. I wondered why the guy across the way from me was awake with his lights on watching TV and reading a book. Maybe he was like me. Maybe he was too full to sleep.
Dear Dusten Brown:
I never know where to begin. The truth is that I have started, re-started and changed this letter many, many times. And after much deliberation I always seem to start the same way. Dusten, I am sorry.
I am sorry for every ignorant internet comment, every misinformed and lazy reporter, every single time I ever watched Dr. Phil (before and after he did that awful, biased show about your daughter). I am sorry for reporters not wanting to tell your story, for people who believe they have all the information without doing any research outside of their one-sided view from the adoptive couple.
And I am sorry that I participated in this. I am sorry that I tried to present this case as "complicated" when it is not complicated. I am sorry that I thought I had to be nice. I am sorry that I wrote that the adoptive couple were not "bad people" and that in my effort to be "reasoned" I erased their malevolent intent and continued attempts to perpetrate injustice. I am sorry that I believed in "justice" and "reason" and that I didn't immediately understand that your case was a call to action, not a call for support.
I want to scream from the rooftops that people are completely misinformed about you, even though I don't know you. I have been told that I have chosen the wrong man to throw my support behind. I have been told that you are a deadbeat father who didn't want anything to do with his kid, until he did. I have been told that you were the one who made all the mistakes... four years ago. And that those mistakes created legal boundaries and now you have to live with them. What I find the most disheartening, or even, disingenuous, is how quickly they are willing to convict you of being a bad father because at some random point you signed a piece of paper, even though you immediately withdrew that piece of paper and contested the adoption. They find everything "hard to believe." That's what they say. "I find it hard to believe that..." and then they put something in there about how you must have been serious when you signed some piece of paper that you didn't want to be a father, and they "find it hard to believe" that you didn't mean it. They "find it hard to believe" that you want to be a father because other people have said you weren't "involved" in Veronica's life before she was born. (I know you tried. I believe you tried.) I don't know why you aren't allowed to change your mind, if that was the case, if any of their accusations are true. I don't know why you aren't allowed to be a father. I don't know why you have proven every second of every day from that point that you DO in fact want to be a father but it doesn't seem to matter. I don't know why the onus is on you to prove you are a father in some legal rigamaroo and not on that couple to LEGALLY adopt a child.
They didn't follow a lot of rules either (we excuse them), they didn't follow the laws of Oklahoma (we excuse them), they didn't follow the Indian Child Welfare Act which is a federal law (we excuse them), they didn't follow the gag order for the case (we excuse them) and they didn't work for the best interest of your daughter (we excuse them). They should not be excused. Do not excuse them.
So Dusten... fight. You may be exhausted. You may feel heavy. You may be grieving. But I say -- fight. Be the warrior. I will burn some root for you (in my tribe we burn root to bless, say prayers, offer thanks, prepare...) and I will sing for you and I will look up into the sky and I will send you my laughter, my tears, my strength and I will say "fight." Fight by telling your story. Go on every single talk show. Fight. Tell everyone your story. Talk until you cannot talk any more and when you cannot talk any more, write. Write Veronica letters every single day and post them. Compile them and publish them. She will find them. Dear Veronica, I love you. She will read them. Dear Veronica, I fought for you because I am your father. No, wait, I FIGHT (continue to) for you because I am your father. She will see you fight. Don't apologize for who you are, don't apologize for anything. Continue to fight this good fight. There are many who will stand with you. You were never in this fight alone, though you had to fight it without many of your supporters standing next to you. But we were there. We will continue to be there. And we will continue to fight.
And tonight-- I will sing a song for you. In Hupa we sing the song three times- once for our K'ixinay, once for our community, and once for ourselves. Tonight I will sing it as a prayer (to our K'ixinay), as a blessing (to the community, including Veronica) and for you.
With much respect and continued hope,
Cutcha Risling Baldy
So now what? What do we do? I felt like this would be a good place for one of my lists-- off the top of my head.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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