Wednesday, April 27, 2011

She Wasn't a Tribal Member, so her Daughter was Taken From Her

I am a non-Tribal mother of a Native American daughter. This has been a battle of 14, nearly 15 years now. I’ve felt so alone over these years, and due to my experiences and feelings have decided it is time to reach out to the other parents like me, to help protect the children like my daughter.

I became pregnant at 16. During my pregnancy her paternal (tribal) grandmother tried to convince me to give her up for adoption to her. I refused. The day she was born, her father would not sign her birth certificate. I stayed together with him until she was nearly 2. He was abusive to me, he was doing drugs and drinking. He had a very short temper. He even attacked me at work. I tried to make it work for her sake, which was a mistake. Thinking maybe if I could force him to go to therapy he would get better. Then one day he turned his anger towards her. That was the last day.

I left him that day, and would not allow him to be alone with her. Because I did not trust him, I set arrangements for him to see her at his mother’s house on pre-arranged dates. The first few visits he was there when I brought her there. After that he wasn’t. His mother told me “It hurts him too much to see you, so he went for a walk, he’ll be back after you leave” Like an idiot 19 year old girl, I believed the woman. It later came out in the open that he had run off to San Francisco to follow his dream of being a homeless drugged out bike messenger. Which later in life is referred to in all legal proceedings as his “Spiritual Journey”.

When she was 5, the state took him to court to establish paternity. They issued a warrant for his arrest for the genetic testing. They actually had to arrest him and bring him in against his will. Once paternity was established, he was a no show for court to sign the papers. The judge had to sign it for him, which by US Citizen law, negates your parental rights.

He was absent from her life with the exception of an occasional Christmas or Thanksgiving – Which he attended to get free stuff, for 5 years. No phone calls, no visits. Nothing. (No child support, but we managed to live with me working 2 or 3 jobs at a time) He started doing something called “Canoe Journey” which I made sure that my daughter could go to when the grandmother asked if she could go. I even volunteered as class mom for all school Tribal functions, making sure that the Native American students could go to the big meets. If I hadn’t have done that none of those children would have been able to go.

Then, one day I get a knock on the door. my daughter’s Uncles are sitting there with a camera and big grins laughing , they say “You’ve been served” and take my photo as they hand me the papers. This is how I found out that her father was filing for custody.

The first court hearing went in my favor. The judge reviewed the case, recognized it as he was the judge that signed the paternity and threw it out. He told my daughter's dad that he expected him to turn his life around before he would even grant visitation, that he expected child support payments, anger management courses and clean urinalysis.

The Tribe appealed the case, which I state this way as 30 or 40 Tribal members showed up in the court room the next day, they even pushed and shoved at me as I tried to walk through the door into the court room.

We went through 4 extremely painful months of custody battle, during which a Guardian Ad Litem was assigned to research the case. During the case, hundreds of “Declarations” were produced by the tribe, attesting to my inability to parent stating things like that I had “Fecal matter spread on the walls” or that I “Partied and brought different men home every night”. They even had the audacity to claim that I am abusive to my daughter. None of these things are true. The odd thing about it all, as I had never even heard of any of these “People” that wrote the declarations, and they all seemed to be written in a variation of 3 or 4 different styles of handwriting.

The Guardian Ad Litem did a very scrutinizing investigation. She concluded that my daughter was best living with me, that she and I had one of the closest most loving relationships she had seen between a parent and child, that she had a wonderful home and a strong support structure. That her father had anger management problems, that he had failed his Urinalysis both the first and the second time, that his home was unfit structurally and sanitarily for a child, and that my daughter seemed to barely even know him. Her advice was for my daughter to stay living with me, for her father to take anger management courses, attend drug and alcohol therapy, get his life in order, THEN start visitation with our daughter under supervision.

The judge threw out her assessment. Why assign a Guardian Ad Litem to a case if you are going to throw it out if it is in the Non Tribal parent’s favor? Was it just to make me spend another $2,200? Was he hoping she would dig up dirt on me?

Needless to say, my daughter, now 14 has been living on the reservation since then. It’s been 5 years. ICW has taken her from her father’s house 3 times now, that I know of. They refuse to give her back to me. They have no just cause for this. They have stated to me they will never place her back in my home because I am not a Tribal Family Member. When they took her, for ABUSE allegations from her father I tried to work through real CPS that would never let this happen. Real CPS informed me that the only way they can get her back for me is if my daughter calls 911 or is hospitalized from the abuse.

Last night I found out that the reason I have been unable to reach my daughter or any of her paternal family for the past 3 weeks is that ICW took her from her father’s home and placed her with her grandmother. Again. They did not contact me. Again. My daughter had to sneak to the computer and email me, when she had been told not to contact me. Again.


Monday, April 11, 2011


Dr. William B. Allen
This was by far the best visit to DC that we’d had yet. Our group, including parents from New Mexico, Wisconsin, Virginia, and S. Dakota, began Monday, January 24th with a meeting with Dr. William Allen, Emeritus Professor, Political Science, MSU, who broached the question as to whether the ICWA was intended for the best interest of the child or the best interest of the tribe. How is it being interpreted and enforced? He reminded us that tribal governments are accountable to Congress, which has plenary power over them. He then asked, “Has Congress, in passing the ICWA, taken the position of Pontius Pilate” - and essentially washed its hands of these children?

We can’t allow Congress to do that. We, as families, have been helpless before this law. Many families have had little opportunity to protect themselves or their children. This is about Constitutional rights – our Equal Protection.

We next met with the Chief of Staff for Senator Hoeven (R-ND), Don Larson, and his assistant, Kaitland. Senator Hoeven has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. (SCIA). Mr. Larson felt this issue was something the Senator could "move forward" with.    

We also met with Katherine Haley, Assistant to Policy for Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH). She said that the speaker holds great importance to protecting families and that the Speaker can get behind this. She told us to push for committee hearings and reminded us that federal policy and oversight is a touchy subject.

While some of us were visiting the Speaker’s office, others visited with Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), who is also a member of the SCIA. Those who visited his office were not confident that he would be helpful, and aides to Senator Kohl (D-WI): kept referring us back to the tribes, saying everything is up to them.

Aide to Rep Berg (R-ND), Patrick Buell, was very interested and said he would talk to a staffer friend of his on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs - and he did. The friend called on Wednesday, February 3rd and was encouraging. He thought new hearings might be possible - if the new Chairman agreed.

Some of us began Tuesday, January 25th, with a meeting with Gary Bauer, of American He urged us to find one person in the House and one in the Senate who will make this issue their cause – who will see it as an opportunity to become a real reformer. He also encouraged us to find a new Governor who isn’t afraid to make this issue a priority.

We next met with Clay Lightfoot, aide to Senator Coburn (R-Ok). Senator Coburn had been a long standing member of the SCIA up until this year when he was moved from the committee. Still, his office has had an interest in this issue over the years. Their interest continues despite having been moved from the committee.

Fern Goodhart, aide to Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), also on the SCIA, was less encouraging. She said there was little that can be done as the issue is up to the tribes and the Committee.

Rep. Kristi Noem’s office, (R-SD), was very welcoming and interested. We met with her aide, Renee Latterell. Brand new to Congress, Rep. Noem is a Teaparty conservative who has been assigned to House Committee on Resources and its subcommittee on Indian Affairs. Renee was VERY encouraging and said they would like to help.

Rep Michelle Bachmann’s aide, (R-MN), Reneee Doyle was also very kind and helpful. We told her that my children and grandchildren are all enrollable with the Minnesota Chippewas Tribe, and that the State of Minnesota had made it much more difficult for families such as ours when they passed a law three years ago forbidding judges to even consider whether or not a child or family is connected with the tribal community. She said she would do her best to talk to Rep. Bachmann, who is also a foster mom, about it.

On Wednesday, we met with Lea Stueve, aide to Senator Johnanns (R-NE)(SCIA): She wasn’t as encouraging and said that the issue is up to the committee.

John Fetzer, aide to Senator Conrad (D-ND)(SCIA), was very warm and interested. He said that new hearings are worth taking a look at "especially when it affects kids this directly." He told us to keep in touch with him "if it's not moving along as fast as you would like."
Remember - As one Senate Aide told us: we need to get on the phone and preach this: ~ The welfare of children shouldn’t be political; it MUST be about the best interest of the child. We must remove “preference” for tribes and give strength to family. ~

UPDATE – Renee Doyle, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, aide, called two weeks ago and said that she has spent nights thinking about our meeting with her on January 25th. The story that she had heard from one of the mother's with us had "broken her heart." She wanted the mother to know that her story had not fallen on deaf ears, and that she was meeting with Don Young's aide to talk about it. I gave her Dr. William Allen's contact phone number to get some additional questions answered.

Letters from birth parents, grandparents, foster families, pre-adoptive families, tribal members and non-members can be read at: