Cherokee Nation citizen Dusten Brown plays with his daughter Veronica, center, with two unidentified children in this undated photo. After a lengthy legal battle, Brown handed over Veronica in September to a non-Native South Carolina couple after their adoption of the girl was declared legal. Four national Native American organizations on Feb. 3 called for the federal government to take a stronger role in enforcing compliance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. COURTESY PHOTO

Native American groups seek child welfare probe

Supporters of Dusten Brown gather on Aug. 12 at the Cherokee Nation Courthouse in Tahlequah, Okla., to protest the adoption of CN citizen Veronica Brown, Dusten’s daughter, by a non-Indian couple in South Carolina. Four national Native American organizations on Feb. 3 asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children in the private adoption and public child welfare systems, saying civil rights violations there are rampant. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Supporters of Dusten Brown gather on Aug. 12 at the Cherokee Nation Courthouse in Tahlequah, Okla., to protest the adoption of CN citizen Veronica Brown, Dusten’s daughter, by a non-Indian couple in South Carolina. Four national Native American organizations on Feb. 3 asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children in the private adoption and public child welfare systems, saying civil rights violations there are rampant. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
02/20/2014 07:52 AM
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Four national Native American organizations on Feb. 3 asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children in the private adoption and public child welfare systems, saying civil rights violations there are rampant.

The groups also called for the federal government to take a stronger role in enforcing compliance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. They stated in a letter to Jocelyn Samuels, the Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, that there is “minimal federal oversight” over implementation of the law.

The letter follows a recent high-profile custody battle over a Cherokee girl known as Baby Veronica who eventually was adopted by a white South Carolina couple. It also comes amid lawsuits alleging violations of federal law governing foster care and adoptions in some states.

The organizations, which include the Portland-based National Indian Child Welfare Association, alleged in their letter that some guardians appointed by the court mock Native American culture; some state workers put down traditional Native ways of parenting; and some children are placed in white homes when Indian relatives and Native foster care homes are available.

“These stories highlight patterns of behavior that are, at best, unethical and, at worst, unlawful,” the letter states. “Although these civil rights violations are well-known and commonplace, they continue to go unchecked and unexamined.”

The federal government had no an immediate response regarding the allegations.

“We have received the letter and are reviewing the request,” Justice Department spokeswoman Dena W. Iverson said in an email.

Native children are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system nationwide, especially in foster care.

Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 after finding high numbers of Indian children being removed from their homes by public and private agencies and placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions.

Federal law now requires that additional services be provided to Native families to prevent unwarranted removal. And it requires that Indian children who are removed be placed whenever possible with relatives or with other Native Americans, in a way that preserves their connection with their tribe, community and relatives.

While Native groups agree that the ICWA has been effective in slowing the removal of Indian children from their families, major challenges remain. And Baby Veronica’s plight has highlighted the matter.

Veronica was born to a non-Cherokee mother, who put her up for adoption. Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple, gained custody of the child in 2009. The baby’s father, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, pressed claims under the ICWA and won custody when the girl was 27 months old.
But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act didn’t apply because the father, Dusten Brown, had been absent from Veronica’s life before her birth and never had custody of her. In September, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court dissolved an order keeping the girl in the state, and Brown handed her over to the Capobiancos.

In addition to that case, the letter cites problems such as adoption agencies disregarding children’s tribal affiliation and failing to provide notice to a tribe when a child is taken into custody. The groups also contend Indian children are transported across state lines to sidestep the law; adoption attorneys encourage circumvention of the law; and judges deny tribes a presence during child custody proceedings.

Another problem, according to Craig Dorsay, an Oregon lawyer who works on many Native child welfare cases, is inconsistencies in identifying who is an Indian child and who is not – and whether the law applies to families who are deemed not Indian enough in the eyes of a court.

In Oregon, Dorsay said, the overall relationship between tribes and counties is good when it comes to applying the law. But statistics continue to show the disproportionate removal of Native children from their families.

Native American children in Oregon are more likely to be placed in foster care than white children, according to research from Portland State University. And they’re more likely to exit care by adoption. That, despite the fact that the abuse rate among Natives is the same as for white families.

Researchers found that suspected abuse or neglect involving Native American families was reported to child protective services at a higher rate than the group’s representation in the general population.

News

BY STAFF REPORTS
03/27/2015 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – On April 2, the public is invited to the Oklahoma State Capitol’s first floor rotunda for a program concerning violence against Native women, which will be followed with the Monument Quilt viewing on the capitol’s east lawn. The Monument Quilt is described as a bright red, hand-sewn story of survival. It is made up of numerous 4-square-foot pieces that are created by survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence. There will 400 stories displayed on the lawn for others to read. Survivors and supporters will have the chance to add their stories on their own quilt square following the program and viewing. According to a press release, the Monument Quilt is a physical space that provides public recognition to survivors and reconnects them with their community. The Monument Quilt seeks to change the public perception of who experience sexual violence by telling many stories, not just one. The release states, Native American women suffer from the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, and non-Natives commit 80 percent of those assaults. A staggering 39 percent of Native women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. The Native Alliance Against Violence is Oklahoma’s tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalition. NAAV serves tribal programs that provide victims with the protections and services they need to have safe and happy lives. FORCE and the NAAV are partnering to put on the event with hopes of bringing attention to the state of violence against Native women and to reconnect survivors to their community. The April 2 program is at 10:30 a.m. to noon and the quilt viewing is from noon to 3 p.m.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/27/2015 02:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – The Friends of the Murrell Home Gift Shop have launched a brand new online store, which carries a variety of items relating to Cherokee history and nineteenth century life in Indian Territory. The museum gift shop, housed at the Murrell Home Historic Site, sells history and language books, maps, historic toys, handmade reproductions, souvenirs and more. A new line of heirloom seeds are also available in-store and online. These vegetable, flower and herb seeds are provided by Seed Savers Exchange, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic seed varieties. The varieties sold at the Murrell Home are representative of nineteenth-century flora that would have been grown in Indian Territory. These vegetables and herbs will be planted in the historic site’s kitchen garden beginning this spring. Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, bloody butcher corn, Cherokee purple tomatoes and Moon & Stars watermelon are just a few of the twenty-four varieties now available for purchase. All of the proceeds from the gift shop and online store benefit the Friends of the Murrell Home, the support organization for the Murrell Home Historic Site. To view the new online store, visit <a href="http://www.mkt.com/murrellhome" target="_blank">mkt.com/murrellhome</a> or <a href="http://www.facebook.com/murrellhome" target="_blank">facebook.com/murrellhome</a>. The historic site is located at 19479 E. Murrell Home Road, three miles south of Tahlequah. The museum store is open from 10 a.m. to5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 918-456-2751.
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/27/2015 10:00 AM
WASHINGTON – On March 25, Principal Chief Bill John Baker delivered testimony before the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee in Washington, D.C. Baker addressed the necessity for increased Indian Health Service funding and the significance of contract support costs. “Cherokee Nation and other tribes have successfully litigated three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. These cases established the federal government is legally obligated to fully fund BIA and IHS contract support costs,” Baker said. “Last year, we negotiated a $29.5 million settlement with IHS to collect nearly a decade’s worth of underpaid contract support costs. Unlike the IHS claims, resolution to BIA’s case has been slow. We request that the Subcommittee encourage BIA to work harder to reach a settlement with tribes. We also request that the Subcommittee support the president’s fiscal year 2016 proposal to fully fund IHS and BIA contract support costs.” Baker also discussed the CN’s commitment to invest its own $100 million for new and improved health facilities, but said IHS needs to pay its share for staffing doctors and nurses. “We have invested more than $100 million from our casino profits to build, expand and renovate our health care facilities. We are the largest tribal health provider, seeing more than 1 million patient visits in 2014. Last year, I testified before this Subcommittee and requested the IHS Joint Venture Construction Program be reopened,” he said. “We are deeply grateful to Rep. Cole, Ranking Member McCollum, and members of the Subcommittee for your efforts that resulted in IHS reopening the program in fiscal year 2014. Cherokee Nation was selected as a Joint Venture project, and the tribe will fund construction of a new health care facility. We request that the Subcommittee ensure IHS meets its obligation by funding the staffing and operations for our Joint Venture facility.” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) chaired the hearing. He was joined by ranking members Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.).
BY STAFF REPORTS
03/26/2015 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – To help with staffing, travel and community members in need, the Cherokee Nation donated $30,000 to Friends of the Murrell Home, War Pony Community Outreach and the CN Color Guard. Friends of the Murrell Home support and promote the Murrell Home Historic Site in Park Hill. The Murrell Home was built following the Trail of Tears for then CN Chief John Ross’ niece, Minerva Ross Murrell. The group uses donations to help cover museum staffing. “Without this donation from the Cherokee Nation, a Cherokee citizen who works for us in the Living History Program would be out of a job,” said Murrell Home Site Manager David Fowler. “Because of that, we’re very appreciative of the help the tribe provides.” War Pony Community Outreach is a nonprofit organization in Cherokee County dedicated to helping people across the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction with living expenses. The group plans to use the donation to buy beds, washers, stoves and other household appliances. “Whatever a community member that qualifies needs, we help provide it,” said Raymond Vann, who works with the outreach. Making appearances at public events, funerals or other venues across the country, veterans who act as cultural ambassadors for the tribe make up the CN Color Guard of Native American. The Color Guard will use the donation for travel expenses.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
03/25/2015 02:00 PM
WELLING, Okla. – A non-Cherokee couple that recently tried to partake in a new master-apprentice Cherokee language course offered by the tribe’s Cultural and Community Outreach is saying they were asked to leave the course after three sessions. Doug and Judy Cotter of Welling tried to participate in the program in February after receiving a call from a participant. Doug said the pilot program pays three Cherokee speakers to interact with four students, so he said there was plenty of room in the classroom for him and his wife. “I received a call from one of the participants that knew we were interested in the Master-Apprentice Program. They stated they would like for us to come sit in just as another example of people that could learn the language because he knew we had been studying it several years over here at NSU (Northeastern State University),” Doug said. “We were tickled to death and jumped at the chance.” However, after three sessions, Doug said CCO Director Rob Daugherty called them into his office and told them they could no longer attend classes. Doug added that he and Judy never got a straight answer as to why they couldn’t attend anymore. “He (Daugherty) said ‘when my students start complaining I have to do something. This is for people who are being paid to be here. It’s for participants only, and you guys just can’t be here,’” Doug said. He said he could not imagine that he and his wife somehow disrupted the classes they attended because mainly they just sat and listened to the Cherokee speakers. The program aims to teach Cherokee Nation citizens to become second-language Cherokee speakers so that they can go into their respective communities and teach others in an effort to revitalize the language, Daugherty said. Citizens will meet eight hours per day on weekdays through this fall, according to the program. “It’s a very demanding schedule,” Daugherty said. “As CCO’s director, when it was brought to my attention by other participants that Mr. and Mrs. Cotter were attending classes regularly and not merely observing, nor were they Cherokee Nation citizens, or a member of any federally-recognized tribe that I know of, I simply explained to the couple that our program is for Cherokee Nation citizens, and we simply did not have the space, nor funding to allow them to be participants.” Daugherty said the class is taught in a small office space and participants are paid stipends. Occasionally there are visitors who observe a class, and the Cotters were allowed to observe by one of the instructors. Doug said he went in strictly as a volunteer and he and his wife did not expect to get paid. “You have to be a member of the Cherokee Nation to even be considered for payment, so I didn’t expect to get paid,” he said. “I just think it would be a privilege to get to participate.” He said he was even willing to teach the language for two years after completing the program, which is required of all students enrolled in the program. “We welcome sharing our Cherokee language, and there are other online and community Cherokee language courses that are free and open to the public that the Cotters can utilize,” Daugherty said. “Moving forward, in our application for this program, we require participants be Cherokee Nation citizens, apply, be accepted and sign a contract with CCO, in an effort to avoid any public confusion.” Doug said at first he was angry because he was invited to partake in the program and then was told he couldn’t. “I didn’t understand. You’re volunteering, and you’re not causing any problems. Why would they not want someone to learn the language? In my opinion, the more people that learn it, the better. If the language is in dire straits, and we all know it is, the more people that can learn it and share it and spread it and teach it, the better off you’re going to be,” he said.
BY JAMI MURPHY
Reporter
03/25/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission, candidates and representatives of candidates drew for ballot order during a March 24 special meeting after the EC ruled on candidate eligibility a day earlier. Candidates, their respective representatives and volunteers drew from a jar containing numbered chips that determined the order in which candidates would appear on the June 27 general election ballot. This year, 36 candidates are vying for eight Tribal Council seats as well as the principal chief and deputy chief positions. Those elected take office on Aug. 14. For the principal chief seat, candidate Will Fourkiller, a representative in the state House, received the first spot. Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden drew the second ballot spot for Principal Chief Bill John Baker. Former CN Community Services Group Leader Charlie Soap drew the third spot, while former Principal Chief Chad Smith will be fourth on the ballot. For the deputy chief seat, Tribal Councilor Lee Keener drew the first spot followed by incumbent S. Joe Crittenden for the second position. Smith, Tribal Councilor Julia Coates’ representative, drew the third spot. Coates has appealed to the tribe’s Supreme Court an EC decision that states she is not eligible to run for the deputy chief seat because she did not meet residency requirements. However, the EC still drew her ballot placement in the chance the court rules in her favor. If the court rules against Coates, her name would be removed from the ballot. For the Dist. 1 Tribal Council seat, a representative drew the first spot for Rex Jordan and candidate Ryan Sierra drew the second spot. For Dist. 3, Brandon Girty got the first spot, which was drawn by his daughter. Incumbent David Walkingstick’s representative drew the second spot. Kathy Kilpatrick drew the third spot, while Brian Berry’s representative drew the forth spot. Larry Pritchett drew the last spot. For Dist. 6, Natalie Fullbright’s representative drew the first spot for her, while Bryan Warner drew the second position. B. Keith McCoy got the third slot, and Ron Goff drew the fourth. For Dist. 8, Corey Bunch drew the first spot, while a representative for Shawn Crittenden drew the second. For Dist. 12, incumbent Dick Lay drew the first spot and his opponent Dora Smith Patzkowski got the second. For Dist. 13, a representative drew the first spot for former Tribal Councilor Buel Anglen, while another representative drew the second spot for Kenneth Holloway. For Dist. 14, a representative for Keith Austin, a former Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board member, drew the first spot, while William “Bill” Pearson drew the second position. For the No. 1 At-Large seat, Wanda Hatfield drew the first spot, while Tommy Jones drew the second. Pamela Fox got the third spot, while Betsy Swimmer drew the fourth. Benjamin McKee drew the fifth spot, and Trey Brown drew the sixth. Deborah Reed got the seventh spot, while Linda Leaf-Bolin got the eighth. Former CN Supreme Court Justice Darell Matlock drew for the ninth spot, and Shane Jett got the last position on the ballot. After drawing for ballot positioning, the EC also drew for watcher names that were provided by candidates for some voting precincts. More than 40 names were drawn. Two names, if available for that precinct location, were drawn as well as an alternate, if possible. The EC also drew several watchers for the four days of in-person absentee voting in Tahlequah. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/OurGovernment/Commissions/ElectionCommission.aspx" target="_blank">http://www.cherokee.org/OurGovernment/Commissions/ElectionCommission.aspx</a> or call 918-458-5899.