Attention Media: Baby Veronica Is Cherokee

An open letter to the media:

Baby Veronica is Cherokee. Whether her father wanted custody or not is irrelevant. Every American Indian tribe sets their own requirement for how to become a citizen. Some tribes have narrow requirements (such as blood quantum) to become a citizen. It is possible a person does not meet tribal requirements but can meet the Bureau of Indian Affairs requirements in order to be recognized. Baby Veronica is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma because, like all citizens of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, her family lineage is traceable and dates to the Dawes Rolls. (The Dawes Rolls is a census of sorts ordered by the U.S. Congress in 1893.) Present-day citizenship is not based on blood quantum, race, geographic location, or anything else, but in having a document-able relative on the Dawes. Like Americans in general, there are Cherokees of all “races,” and are diverse in culture and appearance. (As an aside, there are also an uncountable number of people who are Cherokee but are not recognized by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma because their relatives did not report themselves on the Dawes Rolls, for many reasons.)

Regardless of who she is raised by, Baby Veronica is Cherokee. Even if the adoption attorney did not do his job, Baby Veronica is Cherokee. Even if her adoptive parents do not raise her as Cherokee, Baby Veronica is Cherokee. Even as courts are deciding if the Indian Child Welfare Act applies to her, Baby Veronica is Cherokee.

Jennifer Gapetz is am a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.She is a writer, artist and teacher, and an alumnus of Haskell Indian Nation University and University of Kansas. She is currently and a current student at City University of New York's Graduate Center.