A high profile child custody matter is making its way through the courts and has raised debate about the protections afforded to Native American children. For many Florida residents, the issue hits close to home, as even a slight degree of Native American ancestry is sufficient to qualify an individual as a Native American. Once that designation has been made concerning a child, there are specific protections afforded that child when it comes to custody matters.
One couple found that out the hard way as they fight to get a little girl that they have raised as their own for the past four years. The child is 1/64 Chocktaw Indian, which enables her to be sheltered under the Indian Child Welfare Act. This is the means through which she was removed from her foster home and placed in the care of distant relatives, against the wishes or consent of the people that she has come to know as her mother and father.
The ICWA was put into place in 1970s to protect against Indian children being removed from their homes and placed for adoption. At that time, such removals were common, largely for no reason other than the fact that the children in question were living in poverty. The law states that no child of Native American descent shall be placed in the care of non-native persons unless the tribal government gives consent. This has led to numerous cases in which child custody cases have centered on a child’s ethnicity above other considerations.
In the current case, the now 6-year-old girl has been removed from her home and placed in the care of a couple who are related to the child by way of a paternal step-grandfather. There is no word on whether she will be allowed to visit with or have any communications with her foster family. The case has sparked a great deal of debate in Florida and elsewhere, as many debate whether the Indian Child Welfare Act has outlived its purpose and is no longer a valid way to address child custody matters.
Source: New York Post, “An obsession with racial identity is put above the needs of a child“, Naomi Schaefer Riley, March 27, 2016