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Father, Cherokee Nation respond to child custody outcome

The birth mother of a four-year-old Native Indian girl says that the biological father willingly ended his parental rights prior to his daughter’s birth. The father’s conduct over the past several years suggests otherwise, and the child custody dispute that has prominently emerged into the national spotlight over that time has been both complex and heart-rending.

Dusten Brown is a member of the Cherokee Indian tribe. His daughter, known widely in the media as “Baby Veronica,” is automatically deemed a tribal member as well, owing to her father’s designation. Veronica’s birth mother is a non-Native Caucasian woman who put Veronica up for adoption before she was born. The baby was adopted by a non-Native white couple. Brown and the mother had severed relations by then, and Brown knew nothing of the adoption.

Brown and the Cherokee tribe subsequently sought a remedy -- Brown’s child custody over the girl -- by invoking the Indian Child Welfare Act, legislation that seeks to promote tribal unity and integrity by keeping families together when possible. Pursuant to that federal law, the adoptive parents were ordered to return Veronica to her father when she was about two years old.

That was merely the beginning of a long litigation battle that culminated recently in a United States Supreme Court ruling, with justices stating this past June that the ICWA was inapplicable to Brown’s case, given that he lacked custody over Veronica at the time of her adoption. Brown was ordered to return the girl to her adoptive parents.

He has done so, additionally stating in a press conference held last week that he will no longer contest the matter, owing to his desire that his daughter “live a normal childhood.”

Brown has expressed hopes for a close and continuing relationship with his daughter, and a spokesperson for the Cherokee nation states that the tribe vows to keep the girl closely linked to “her proud and rich Cherokee culture.”

Source: HLN, "Baby Veronica's father calls for end to fighting," Kisa Mlela Santiago, Oct. 11, 2013

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