Bureau of Indian Affairs needs to consider a child’s best welfare

Back on July 8 in the daily news(?)paper in Tulsa, there was a story on top of a page that carried the headline: “Lawsuit claims Indian Child Welfare Act fails abused children.” The stated writer was Randy Ellis of The Oklahoman, the daily newspaper in Oklahoma City. For some time, the two papers, with different ownership, have shared stories, originally listed as a cost-reducing move, which makes sense to me, especially when covering the activities at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

The subheadline read: “Suit says child protection placement should be based on their needs, not race.”

With that statement, there should be agreement by most thinking citizens, but it appears not with the personnel at the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), some tribal officials and their lawyers.

The story begins with the statement that the Goldwater Institute is claiming class-action status in a lawsuit that it filed on July 6 in Phoenix. The name Goldwater indicates to me that the institute probably is located there. Arizona is the location of several large tribal reservations.

The stated claim of the suit is listed as:“The federal Indian Child Welfare Act fails to provide equal protection for Native American children and should be declared unconstitutional.” It is noted further in the story that the ICWA passed through Congress in 1978 was “designed to halt a trend of huge numbers of American Indian children being taken from their parents based on cultural differences rather than actual abuse or neglect and placed with white foster or adoptive parents.”

While the stated purpose may have, in some cases, based in fact, the BIA has in subsequent years wrote and rewritten the rules (which have the effect of law) to throw the balance totally in the other direction, in my direct observation. Given the nature of the seemingly majority of federal bureau employees and managers, that observation should not come as much, if any, surprise.

Last year, we had an extended case here, involving courts in two states, where a small child of Cherokee parentage had been put out for adoption by the single mother and adopted by a couple, if memory serves correct, living in Georgia. She had been with them for most of her life and knew only them as parents. Then the tribe, exercising its “nation” status, proceeded to enter the case after the purported father claimed he had not been informed. This case dragged on for more than a year, back and forth, before finally being settled in favor of the adoption. All this with much unfavorable publicity against the adoptive parents and the child actually taken from them for some of the time, much to her distress.

Earlier this year, the BIA held one of a series of public hearings on a proposed new set of rules here in Tulsa. My granddaughter of Lakewood, Colorado, is in the process of adopting two sibling, part-Indian children, same mother different fathers, and she requested my attendance and possible involvement with a statement. She has been in the adoption process for over two years now after a Washington State tribe intervened. The worst part, in my opinion, is that if they should succeed in gaining custody, the 5-year-old girl would not be able to have any of the tribal services, including medical coverage. Her father even testified that she would be far better off with my granddaughter than he could provide and certainly than her mother. The proposed rules also seemed to me to be grossly unconstitutional, as stated by two attorneys there.

As has been stated before, it is my opinion that the BIA is one of those departments that should be terminated, the tribes have adequately demonstrated that they are quite capable of handling their own affairs and it is insulting to them to be subject to the whims of the BIA.