New story in The Public Eye

On September 23, 2013, a child-custody battle that was nearly five years in the making came to its conclusion in Oklahoma when an Army veteran from the Cherokee Nation, Dusten Brown, handed over his daughter, Veronica, to Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a White couple from South Carolina who had raised her for the first two years of her life.1

Brown gained custody of four-year-old Veronica in December 2011, after a South Carolina court ruled that the adoption process had violated federal Indian law. Brown’s attorneys also argued that Christina Maldonado—Brown’s ex-fiancé and Veronica’s biological mother, who is Latina—had deliberately concealed plans to let the Capobiancos adopt her.2 As the custody decision was reversed following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling,3 and Veronica was tucked into the Capobiancos’ car to return to South Carolina, the scene was broadcast across national and social media to two polarized camps. Brown’s supporters condemned the Capobiancos as baby-snatchers stealing an Indian child from her loving father, as tens of thousands of Native children had been systematically removed from their families in decades past. The Capobiancos’ supporters condemned Brown as a deadbeat dad who had given up his rights long ago and was hiding behind an obsolete law.

These battle lines, which had helped turn the case into headline news for much of the past year, reflected deeper tensions that involved a growing conservative Christian adoption movement and a global pattern of falling adoption numbers. The Baby Veronica case also provided a glimpse into a broad, high-stakes battle that pits the explosive growth in the demand for adoptable babies in the United States against legal protections for Indian parents. Some advocates for Indians fear that the assault on those protections—established relatively recently in response to a long history of White “civilizing” projects—is also evolving into a broader attack on the fundamental sovereignty of Native American nations.

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