Dusten Brown, Cherokee, reads to daughter Veronica at their home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. (Courtesy NCIA)

Dusten Brown, Cherokee, reads to daughter Veronica at their home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. (Courtesy NCIA)

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Baby Veronica Custody Case

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the highly publicized case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl.

More commonly known as the “Baby Veronica” case, it concerns 3-and-a-half-year-old Veronica, born in Oklahoma in 2009 to Christina Maldonado, a non-Native Hispanic woman, and Dusten Brown, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. Prior to Veronica’s birth, and without Brown’s consent, Maldonado arranged for their daughter to be adopted by a non-Native couple.

When Brown, an Iraqi war veteran, learned of the adoption, he immediately sought custody of Veronica, who was living with the adoptive couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina.  

On December 28, 2011, when Veronica was 2 years old, the South Carolina Appellate Court ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) trumped South Carolina state law. On December 31, 2011, Veronica was returned to her biological father, family in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a neighboring city of the Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation. According to the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling, the Brown family has a “deeply embedded relationship” with their heritage. On July 26, a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling upheld the appellate court’s decision.

Mainstream media have presented misleading facts about the adoption and Brown’s commitment to his daughter. An op-ed by Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, titled Baby Veronica and Native American Family Values, clarifies the glaring misrepresentations.

The below video, created by the National Congress of American Indians, features  Veronica with Dusten and his wife, Robin.  "There's no words you can really state on how much you love your children," Brown says in the video. "…When it comes to my family, I'd do anything for them."

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, anticipated in June, is expected to significantly impact all future adoption cases involving a Native American child and significantly alter the interpretation of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). A favorable ruling to uphold the South Carolina appellate and supreme court decisions stand to strengthen the enforcement of ICWA at state courts across the country.

But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to overturn the South Carolina court decisions would not only result in Brown losing custody of his daughter, it would have detrimental effects for all future cases involving Native children being adopted into non-Native homes.

“It would undo [over] 35 years of work on the Indian Child Welfare Act,” Chrissi Nimmo, the counsel of record for the Cherokee Nation, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Any adverse decision would impact every tribe in the country. There’s no doubt.”

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