Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes Statement on Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Veronica Brown

Statement from Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes:
Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker, President of Inter-Tribal,
Muscogee Creek Nation Chief George Tiger,
Choctaw Nation Chief Greg Pyle,
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, and
Seminole Nation Chief Leonard Harjo

RE: In Support of the NCAI/NARF/NICWA Civil Lawsuit to Defend the Civil Rights of “Baby Veronica” and Her Right to a Fair Best Interest Hearing

“We stand today representing our five nations and joining with sovereign Indian nations across the United States and multiple national Native American organizations in support of the civil rights lawsuit filed in South Carolina on behalf of Veronica Brown, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. On July 17, 2013, the South Carolina Supreme Court ignored the child’s and the Brown family’s right to due process when it ordered the finalization of Veronica’s adoption by non-Indian parents and her removal from her biological Cherokee father and Cherokee family.

“The South Carolina Supreme Court’s order flies in the face of its previous determination and the U.S. Supreme Court. As elected leaders of sovereign tribal governments, we are outraged by the actions taken by the South Carolina Supreme Court. The reckless order to rush Veronica’s adoption will negatively impact Native children and family preservation efforts nationwide. Most importantly, though, it will take a happy and well-adjusted child from the only family she knows: her father, sister, stepmother, extended family, tribe, community and culture.
“A severe injustice has been committed to an innocent Cherokee child and her loving family in Oklahoma. The Brown family, including Veronica, deserves their due process. They do not deserve to have their lives forever transformed by the South Carolina judicial system without cause or consideration.

“Indian children being removed from their families and homes is not a new story in Indian Country. Those dark days have reared their head again sadly in South Carolina. We will stand with Veronica, the Browns, and national tribal organizations fighting for fairness and justice."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cherokee Phoenix Column: Cherokee Foster Families Needed

Cherokee Foster Families Needed
By Principal Bill John Baker

When I was elected Principal Chief, I promised I would do everything in my power to improve the lives of Cherokee youth. We have enjoyed many successes including more monies for education, and expanded health care coverage.

However, we are still in dire need in one area: foster and adoptive families for our Indian Child Welfare program. As you know, our children ensure the continued existence of our tribe, they are our future.  As Cherokee people, we all come from one fire and the Cherokee Nation belongs to our children. 

I hope strong Cherokee citizens and families can find a place in their hearts and in their homes for our beautiful children, who badly need a safe, nurturing environment. This is an issue that is deeply personal to me. We talk about taking care of our people, being a shoulder in a time of need and putting our Cherokee children first.

Now, I am asking Cherokee citizens to step forward and accept this huge responsibility. You can become a resource for our children.

Within the past five years, our Cherokee ICW office has had court involvement with 1,200 – 1,600 Cherokee children annually. The caseload increases each year and no decline is in sight.

Approximately one-third of these cases are children needing Cherokee homes.  Currently, we have about 140 certified resource homes - 100 are adoptive homes and 40 are foster homes.  The numbers of homes available for placement of our children has decreased drastically in the past five years, due in large part to issues related to the economy. 

Out of the 100 adoptive homes available, most request to adopt one child only in the range of zero to two years of age.  Most of the foster homes request only children from infancy to six years and generally do not want placement of more than two siblings.  We have no homes willing to accept the placement of teenagers.

Our greatest needs do not line up with our available resources.  We need foster homes for children over the age of six that are typically part of a sibling group and we need adoptive homes for children over the age of two that also have siblings.   

We need homes within our jurisdictional boundaries and throughout Oklahoma and in the communities where high numbers of Cherokees live – Texas, Arkansas, California, New Mexico, and elsewhere.

When we do not have safe homes to offer, we run the risk of our Cherokee children being placed in non-Native homes.  This goes against our basic Cherokee values and everything the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) represents and can make the battle difficult for Cherokee Nation ICW workers, who not only have to advocate for the best interest of the child and the Nation, but also many times must educate the local and state court systems on the importance of ICWA. 

Some people are unsure of whether or not they even qualify to foster or adopt. I encourage you to inquire if you have any capacity in your life and in in your home to help a Cherokee child.

My hope is this message will resonate with families who have love to offer and are willing to accept the responsibility of providing a foster or adoptive home.  Remember, while each of us is only one person in the world, we can be the world to a child.

Visit  or call 918-458-6900 to be part of the solution.