We need to talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act or In Which I Try To Talk About the Indian Child Welfare Act
Guys, listen, we need to talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act. All day and everywhere. We need to tweet about the #IndianChildWelfareAct. All day and everywhere. We need to pass along articles and write our own. We need to write open letters (even though, you know, everyone knows open letters are so last year) and put up Buzzfeed .gif stories or lists (Top 5 reasons why Indians aren't trying to steal a child from a nice white family but instead are trying to be reunited with a child that IS their family). We need to be the voice for all of the people who can't do press conferences and sit down with CNN or even local news shows. We need to take apart every single piece of rhetoric that is put out there. You know the ones that are like "Save this child!" or "They are seizing a child from a loving family" or "This child is ONLY this much Indian." We need a thousand million billion voices to counteract all those voices that want the story to be about a nice, non-Native (usually white) family who just wants to love this child they love so much. And not about how hard and long the child's Native family has also been fighting to be reunited with this child. We need to have all those voices out there. You know why? Because of this:
Going into her room and seeing her toys without her playing with them is the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Me and my wife, Veronica’s grandparents, her sister, cousins, aunts, uncles, extended family our friends are heartbroke without her. I know we did everything in our power to keep Veronica home with her family. During this four year fight to raise my daughter I had to make many difficult decisions, decisions no father should ever have to make. The most difficult decision of all was to let Veronica go… -Dusten Brown
The "Baby Veronica" case, that's a thing that happened and it sucked. It resulted in a 2013 Supreme Court case where a Native father had his child seized away from him. The scene was heartbreaking and resulted in the legalized kidnapping of a Native child, who according the Supreme Court of the United States did not belong with her Native father, but instead belonged with the white couple who had illegally and immorally adopted her years before.
I wrote about it then. A few times. And one thing I said was this:
Writing this blog entry has been hard because this case hurts. Every time I wake up and read another news alert that something has happened in the Baby Veronica case that something tends to be disheartening, ill-informed, sad, racist, jerk-ist, craziness that makes me start shake my head and wonder, what's the point? Because the true nature of people comes out with stories like this. Suddenly, we are having to defend the right of a father to be with his daughter. Suddenly the adoptive couple is making a website called "SAVE Veronica." And my immediate thought is, save her from what? From her father? From a loving home with her father? From an extended family, grandparents, cousins, aunts and Uncles? From her Cherokee heritage? SAVE her from what?
But this is not a blog to tell you about why we need the Indian Child Welfare Act. Or why it is a law. Or how if the shoe was on the other foot you know all these nice white families would be yelling "OBEY THE LAW" at everyone instead of "SAVE THIS NATIVE CHILD FROM HER NATIVE PEOPLE! SCREW THE LAW!" If you want to read that blog entry you can find it here.
This is not even a blog to tell you about the latest case where a nice Non-Native family really wants to keep a Native child that they are fostering (law be damned) so they are going to fight it out in court for years and years, say that is in the best interest of the child, dismiss how the child's Native family has tried to stay an active part of her life even though they have been rebuffed at every stage, and also not mention how hard the child's father worked to try and get her back in the first place. Or how they did what all these nice Non-Native (usually white) families do. They started a "Save Lexi" page and campaign. They told their story to as many news outlets as they could. They are dominating the media right now. "Save Lexi" people say.
Read the full back story if you'd like from Indian Country Today. It is infuriating. Also this part:
In January 2014, Lori Alvino McGill signed on as counsel for the Pages. Alvino McGill worked onAdoptive Couple v. Baby Girl last year as a spokesperson for Veronica's mother, Christy Maldonado, who had given Veronica up for adoption to Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina before the girl’s birth in 2009. As Maldonado’s pro bono counsel, Alvino McGill argued in the media and on social websites against Veronica’s father Dusten Brown, using foul language and, in one particularly heated late-night exchange on Facebook, referred to Veronica’s biological father as a “sperm donor.”
I bolded that last part because that is what it's always about. Overturning ICWA. And they are not only going to do it legally. They are going to do it by controlling, manipulating and steering the conversation in popular media.
You may notice that while there are plenty of interviews with the nice white family who just want to protect their Native foster child from her Native family... there are not many with any of the Native people connected with the case. This happened in the case of Dusten Brown as well. Dusten followed the gag order, he believed in the law, and he thought cooler heads would prevail in a case that was about a father who loved his child. The media could have cared less, because if he wasn't going to sit in a chair with them and get them good ratings, they were going to go with the whole "isn't this so sad to have a child seized and kept away from a family that wants her?" (Isn't it sad that they are trying to do that to the father and his family as well? No? It should be...)
I actually wrote about this media insanity for an article that will be published soon. Because what I noticed about the media in these Indian Child Welfare Cases is this:
The representation forwarded by popular media of Native people in this case was specifically designed to diminish tribal sovereignty in public discourse. In most instances the national news media did not invite Native intellectuals to participate in this public dialogue. Public opinion was swayed because of the portrayal of Native nations as racist and discriminatory against nice white couples who wanted to adopt Indian children. On October 18, 2012, Dr. Phil dedicated an entire show to the case. Anderson Cooper also joined in the discussion of the case on CNN, which he argued was about the seizure of a Native child away from a white adoptive family. Wolf Blitzer (also on CNN) questioned why the Cherokee Nation felt like they deserved jurisdiction in the case. --Cutcha Risling Baldy
That's right news media. Maybe you can't talk to the exact Native family involved, but you can AT LEAST ask Native people to comment on what the case means and why it is important. You know how when you do a story on Donald Trump (like a milllion and a half of them) but you can't actually get Donald Trump to come on your show (cause he busy tweeting) so you call up one of your political analysts to make comments.
WE CAN DO THAT TOO!
But we were never asked. And what I noticed about the Baby Veronica case was the palpable lack of representation of any Native voices in the discussion. I also wrote about this too:
Native intellectuals were not invited to participate in meaningful public discussion, nor were they featured on popular media sites as guest writers or editors about this issue. Instead there was a tentative silence about the case, and a whispered hope that the Indian Child Welfare Act would be enough to protect this Native father. It was not. And though the Cherokee Nation had promised to uphold their sovereignty by refusing to give in to the demands to hand over the child to the Copabiancos, in the end Veronica Brown was taken from her father and driven away in front of national news cameras and a gathering of protestors holding signs saying “Cherokee children are not for sale.” -Cutcha Risling Baldy
What's the point? We cannot afford to be silent. Things have changed since the Baby Veronica case. Native twitter is a thing that exists. #HashtagActivism has told people we are #NotYourMascot #NotYourTonto and that #JKRowling needs to take a Native American Studies Class.
There are whole articles written now that are just a series of tweets. Here's what this person said on Twitter. Hey here's another thing someone said on Twitter. And because of this, there is NO DENYING that Native public intellectuals exist. I call it the #NewNativeIntellectualism
The new Native intellectualism is about interrogating popular discourse on Native peoples and offering a pointed and engaged critique. It's being passionate about online activism and presence because we know there are interconnections to how this informs public discourse about self-determination and the future of Native Nations.
It's every blog entry. Every re-tweet. Every voice that says "You may think there is nobody that can come on your show and explain sovereignty to you Wolf Blitzer, but there are many of us."
So if you do anything today, right now, head on over to your Twitter or your Facebook page and say "It's time to talk about the #IndianChildWelfareAct."
And refuse to be silenced.
What's some stuff I can do now?
Check out the Twitter feeds of some of these Native people, retweet, repeat.
Founder @ A Tribe Called Geek. Managing Partner @ Native Max Magazine. Producer/Host @ SuccessNativeStyle. Board Member of Not Your Mascots. (Opinions are mine)
Tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo. Publisher of American Indians in Children's Literature; PhD and M.Ed in Education, MLIS. See CV at website for list of pubs.
I'm an educated, professional Native woman. My very existence is a political statement. *No DMs*
And let me end with this. When Dusten Brown was finally able to speak publicly about his daughter, and the case that was all over the news media and took him all the way to the Supreme Court, what quickly became obvious was that he was not the callous, neglectful, brash or even arrogant person that the Capobiancos and their media team had made him out to be. He was a loving, caring father. And I end here with his message to his daughter because he is right, one day she will read about this time in her life, and I hope instead of Dr. Phil and CNN nonsense she is able to find this video and hear his voice to remind her how loved she will always be. And to remind us why our voices matter now, and can matter many years in the future as these stolen children find their way home.
And to Veronica, one day you will read about this time in your life. Never ever for one second, never ever for one second doubt how much I love you, how hard I fought for you, or how much you mean to me. My home will always be your home and you’re always welcome in it. I miss you more than words can express. You’ll always be my little girl, my princess, and I will always love you until the day I die. I love you and hope to see you soon. -Dusten Brown
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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