OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Cherokee Nation attorney said Friday that a 3-year-old girl will be devastated if she is adopted by a South Carolina couple and taken away from her biological father, who is a member of the tribe, in a case tribal leaders say could affect native children and their families nationwide.
Chrissi Nimmo, an assistant attorney general for the Oklahoma-based tribe, said Dusten Brown has been raising his daughter, Veronica, for the past 19 months and the legal battle over her adoption has been emotionally draining.
"I can't imagine that it is anything other than miserable," Nimmo said.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday denied Brown's request to stay the adoption of his daughter that was finalized by a South Carolina judge Wednesday. Matt and Melanie Capobianco, hand-picked by the girl's birth mother to adopt her, raised Veronica for two years following her birth in 2009 and have sought to adopt her since birth.
But Brown, who had never met his daughter, challenged that adoption, arguing that federal law favored the girl being raised by him and in cultural traditions. State courts initially sent Veronica to live with Brown in Oklahoma in 2011, citing the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which seeks to keep Indian children from being taken from their homes and placed with non-Indian adoptive or foster parents.
The Capobiancos appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year said South Carolina's courts should decide what happens to the girl.
Nimmo said the Cherokee Nation supports Brown's attempt to retain custody of his daughter.
"It is absolutely undisputed that he is a fit parent," she said. "It is unfathomable to me that an adoption of a child who is currently residing with a fit biological parent can be finalized. Adoption is for children who need homes. Veronica does not need a home. It will be devastating for her if she is removed from her father."
She said Brown is currently on a training mission with the National Guard and was out of the state. She said Veronica is being cared for by her stepmother and grandparents in Nowata in northeastern Oklahoma.
Nimmo said the child's biological mother lives in Bartlesville, Okla., about 20 miles west of Nowata, but has not attempted to reach out to her daughter. The girl was put up for adoption after Brown signed legal papers without understanding them.
Brown's attorneys have argued the girl's biological mother concealed her plans to put their daughter up for adoption, and that Brown believed he had signed his custody rights to the mother. Brown mounted a challenge to the adoption four months after his daughter was born.
Nimmo said she was disappointed that the nation's highest court had denied Brown's stay request.
"While Veronica may not have a right to a determination of her best interests under South Carolina or federal law, she does have that right under Oklahoma and Cherokee Nation law," Nimmo said in a statement.
In a statement released on Thursday, Brown said a transition plan for his daughter's transfer to the Capobiancos states his daughter will be "fearful, scared, anxious, confused" and will likely become withdrawn and may cry herself to sleep. It also says the girl will suffer grief and loss and may feel rejected by Brown and her family.
"I will not voluntarily let my child go through that, no parent would," the statement says. "I am her father and it is my job to protect her."
The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, which includes the Cherokee Nation, issued a statement that said South Carolina courts had ignored the child's and the Brown family's right to due process.
"The reckless order to rush Veronica's adoption will negatively impact native children and family preservation efforts nationwide," the statement says. "A severe injustice has been committed to an innocent Cherokee child and her loving family in Oklahoma."