The debate over whether Baby Talon belongs with his birth mother’s
Native American tribe or the family who thought they’d followed all
laws in attempting to adopt him – only to lose him – has loomed large here on
Both sides have honed in on some startling truths (and that
includes fellow ‘Derby writer Shannon LC Cate, who took a walk in the
shoes of the birth mother), but one argument has really bothered me:
The idea that the Indian
Child Welfare Act (ICWA) gives a Native American tribe the power to make the
“best” choice for a child, a choice that supersedes one made by that
child’s parents. I’m even more confused by the fact that parents who have posted
on here seem to think that this is a good idea.
As one commenter put it: “This is just the way it is under the law, which was needed in order to
prevent further generations of disruption and cultural genocide.”
I’ve said many times on posts related to issues of Native Americans, I
recognize the atrocities visited upon them. I think we need to educate
our children, and I think we need to make more concerted efforts as a
country to help the poorest on some of these reservations. I definitely
wouldn’t call myself a supporter of “cultural genocide.”
BUT, I find the idea that any nation, even a sovereign nation,
should have this sort of power over a parent’s choices. This seems to cross a line of the type that we as Americans wouldn’t support outside of
our borders. So why does federal law protect it here?
As a mother, it’s up to me to decide what is best for my daughter.
Short of a decision to mistreat her (one I wouldn’t make), it’s a power
that I’m granted by my status as an American. If, God forbid, something
were to happen to me or my husband, my decision of who I want my child
to live with should be legally binding. I am, after all, her mother.
The same goes for my husband – his decision should hold weight too. But
you’re not Native American, you can say. True, I am white. I am
Catholic. I am a dozen other things that I hold dear, including being
an American. That is my culture, and it’s one I can decide to have my
daughter follow. I should – and do – have that right. So why doesn’t a
fellow American citizen, a mother or a father who just so happens to
have a baby with enough Native American blood to qualify as part of a
I am unschooled, I admit, on the exact parameters of the ICWA. But
the debate on the site has made me look into my own family, including a
relative who is (happily) married to a full-blooded Native American
man. He and her children are both enrolled in a reservation. I would
hope nothing would ever befall either of these children’s parents, they
are, after all, family. But what if it did? Were my relative to lose
her husband (God forbid), would the ICWA give her Native American
in-laws the power to make choices for her babies? Would it deny her,
their mother, rights afforded her by the US Constitution?
I am extremely uncomfortable with readers who have said they simply
“trust the tribe” to make the right decision for babies (setting aside the case of Baby Talon). Perhaps
they are in the right in this case, and I sincerely hope so. But we
have the right and the obligation as Americans to question our
government. The inability to do so, to have to hand over those
decisions nearest and dearest to our hearts? That is oppression.