Feds may intervene in Baby Dawn ICWA case

The United States Department of Justice must decide whether to get involved in an ongoing Alaskan custody battle between a Native grandmother and the state appointed adoptive couple responsible for her granddaughter. The DOJ’s decision deadline stands at November 24th.

Six year old “Dawn” was separated from her mother and placed in foster care as an infant. She moved in with the Smiths, the family currently fighting to finalize their adoption, after a year in the system.

Dawn’s mother’s parental rights were terminated three years after her removal and as next of kin, grandmother Elise was legally eligible for custody.

Elise has been fighting for her right to adopt since the beginning of the ordeal. Record shows that she vocalized initial interest when Dawn was first taken. Further correspondence was noted in August 2009. At a November 2011 placement hearing, Elise testified once again. Still, her rights and willingness have not been properly acknowledged due to an alleged lack of official documentation.

The Lakota People’s Law Project firmly believes that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 was passed to support people like Elise in their attempts to adopt members of their family and Native community.

The most recent infringement of these rights was on display at a September 12 Alaska State Supreme Court hearing in which Elise was denied her right to adopt in a 3-2 decision. Whether or not federal intervention will alter this outcome is not known.

Baby Dawn’s case has been compared to the controversial Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl Supreme Court decision of 2013, more popularly known as the Baby Veronica Case.

In this case, Dusten Brown of the Cherokee Nation wasn’t alerted of his daughter, Veronica’s,  adoption as he was not in contact with her mother at the time. According to the Indian Child Welfare Act, adoptions are invalid if a biological parent is uninformed.

Initially, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown, but the United States Supreme Court overturned the state ruling and eventually granted custodial  adoptive parents by the Supreme Court after a four year long process in which the outh CarolSina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown. Brown, along with Veronica’s adoptive parents, make an effort to keep the father in Veronica’s life however possible.

If and how private adoptions differ from state organized adoptions under the Indian Child Welfare Act is up for interpretation by the federal government. The Lakota People’s Law Project is committed to a future in which ICWA is honored and Native families are able to stay in tact.




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