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September 10, 2013

UN official: Consider Cherokee girl’s rights

OKLAHOMA CITY —

A United Nations official who focuses on the status of indigenous peoples called on state, federal and tribal authorities Tuesday to ensure that the rights of a nearly 4-year-old girl in the middle of a custody dispute are considered.

James Anaya said in a statement that authorities should consider Veronica’s rights to maintain her “cultural identity” as a member of the Cherokee Nation.

Veronica’s father, Dusten Brown, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, has been fighting for custody of the girl with a South Carolina couple who adopted her.

“Veronica’s human rights as a child and as (a) member of the Cherokee Nation, an indigenous people, should be fully and adequately considered in the ongoing judicial and administrative proceedings that will determine her future upbringing,” Anaya said. “The individual and collective rights of all indigenous children, their families and indigenous peoples must be protected throughout the United States.”

Veronica’s birth mother, who is not Native American, was pregnant when she put the girl up for adoption, and the South Carolina couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, had been lined up to receive custody since 2009. But Brown and his family claimed the Indian Child Welfare Act mandated that the child be raised within the Cherokee Nation, and he won custody when the girl was 2.

The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978 with the intent of reducing the high rates of Native American children being adopted by non-Native American families. A South Carolina court cited the law when awarding Veronica to Brown in 2011, but the U.S. Supreme Court said this summer the law did not apply in Brown’s case because he had been absent from the child’s life.

A South Carolina family court judge then ruled in July that custody be awarded to the Capobiancos and ordered Brown to hand Veronica over. Brown refused, and South Carolina authorities charged Brown with custodial interference after he failed to show up to a court-ordered meeting. Brown is fighting extradition to South Carolina to face the charge.

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