"Baby Veronica" & The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA): A Public's Perception
AuthorRoss-Mulkey, Mikhelle Lynn
Indian Child Welfare Act
American Indian Studies
AdvisorLuna Firebaugh, Eileen
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractWhat has become known to the world as the Baby Veronica case (2009-2013) involves several parties including the biological father, Dusten Brown, who is a Cherokee citizen, the Non-Native adoptive parents, the Capobiancos, the Cherokee Nation, and most importantly the baby who is now a child getting ready to start school, Veronica. It is a complex child custody case, but one that is well supported in Federal Indian Law and Policy with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 and Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfields (1989). In the beginning of the Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl et al case (or famously known simply as the Baby Veronica case), the South Carolina Family Court and Supreme Court used the legalese of the ICWA to uphold the biological father's parental right to stop the adoption of his child. However, in an interesting turn of events the case was then taken up by the United States (U.S.) Supreme Court where it was ruled that the biological father was not an Indian parent as defined by ICWA (before the child was placed with the prospective adoptive couple there was no preexisting custody of the newborn child by the father) and stating that state law applied and not ICWA in this case and since the father was not married to the birth mother and had not paid child support he was not deemed a parent by South Carolina’s definition of the word. The most recent decision came from the South Carolina court stating that Baby Veronica, after two years of living with her father, must be returned to the prospective adoptive parents. Most everyone out there felt sadness for the prospective adoptive couple who had loved and provided for this child for two years, but all adoptive/foster parents know there is always a chance for the natural parents to object to the placement (it is called legal risk in child welfare). Each state sets their own laws on how long the natural parents have to change their mind, but in this case the biological father was not even aware that the biological mother was planning on giving the child up for adoption. Once he discovered the adoption, four months after the child was born and had been living with the Capobiancos since birth, he filed a petition to stop it and regain custody. This action would lead to a four year long custody battle. While it is important to look at all the facts and the history of the ICWA (and now the future of the ICWA) this dissertation focuses mostly on the public perception of the case. This case has received a fair amount of media coverage throughout the United States including a one-hour episode on Dr. Phil which aired on CBS. It is not often that something happening in Indian County makes it to mainstream media/attention, but when it does there is usually a great deal of misunderstanding on the issue. This is also true for most of the coverage and public responses from the media. This time around it was also true of the U.S. Supreme Court who focused too much attention on Dusten Brown’s blood quantum and not his cultural upbringing. Further the majority of the Supreme Court Justices held that the problems that existed pre-ICWA are not really a problem anymore which is reverberated through the public's perception. It is the intention of this dissertation to follow and analyze the media and the public of this particular case and the ICWA in general through the theories of framing and Red Power. In the social sciences framing is the social construction of a social phenomenon (the Baby Veronica case) by mass media sources (newspapers and television shows), political or social movements, political leaders (Chief John Baker of the Cherokee Nation), or other actors and organizations (National Indian Child Welfare Association). The individual's perception of the facts and meaning attributed to words or phrases will be influenced by some or all of these entities. A frame creates rhetoric in a way that can either encourage or discourage certain interpretations. Stereotypes are one example of framing and are seen in the Baby Veronica case especially as people try to define what it means to be Cherokee. Red Power can be seen as a frame, but is also an American Indian theory that links ethnic pride and political activism to a resurgence of Indian identity. There was a lot of ethnic pride and political activism that took place in favor of Dusten Brown retaining custody of his daughter which no doubt heightened the Cherokee Indian identity, but unfortunately in this case this resurgence would not be enough to keep Veronica, now at the age of four, living with her biological father. However, this dissertation will conclude with some possible recommendations for the Indian Child Welfare Act and the future of American Indian child custody cases.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
American Indian Studies