An Indian Child Welfare Act Disappointment: Lack of Support from Tribe

For Allen Kepa, the lack of support from his tribe in his Indian Child Welfare Act case could mean he will lose the fight for his daughter.

To the People of the Muscogee Nation and Tribal Council representing the People:

My name is Mona Evans. I began working with a citizen of your nation in October 2014 as a home visitor, teaching culturally specific parenting lessons and parent advocacy as the father in question underwent the scrutiny and process of parent/child reunification with the Alameda County Child Welfare system in Oakland, California.

Also in late 2014, I made first contact with Muscogee Nation and Tribal Enrollment in order to make the request that this man's infant daughter be enrolled. Through this three-year process, I have made contact, asked questions, and witnessed the Native father making contact and communicating his requests for support in his case to have his daughter returned to him. Muscogee Nation continually expressed that in no way were they planning to intervene in this Native Child Welfare Case.

This past Monday morning (March 13) in a courtroom in Alameda County I witnessed three non-Native attorneys and a non-Native judge make the decision to end reunification and move towards terminating this Native man's parental rights. It was a broken day for Native American children and Native American Parents. The Honorable Judge Ursula Jones spoke about this child not considering her father as family. Heartbreaking. I realize that Muscogee Nation and the tribes across Turtle Island do not have the resources to send emissaries for every Indian Child Welfare Act case across the land. But we contacted you and alerted you that California Indian Legal Services could step in on your behalf and send someone to intervene. Your response was no.

The Indian Child Welfare Act is a minute application in the United States legal barrage to try to protect more Native children from becoming lost. Because when Native children grow up separate from their kin, their people, their parents, their Native communities they do turn out to be entirely different Native American adults. Beside the horrific self-esteem maladies which matriculate over a lifetime, they are not present to make a stand with us for the next generation. They often spend years trying to unravel the assimilation poured on them as they wander through foster families, non-Native foster families. Like the one this young child is being kept in right now.

Her father was not aware his baby was born and was removed by Child Protective Services from the hospital. He was never given the opportunity to take custody of his child. If he had given birth to her, this story would likely be very different and she would likely be in her bed at home with her Muscogee and Native Hawaiian father.

It is very sad that the Muscogee Nation will not battle for a daughter of your people. It is sad to find that after hundreds of years of massacre, stolen children, all the terror colonization has brought to us as a distinct people group on this earth, it is sadder still to beg your people to help save a child from the grips of a condescending entity which looks down on you and your tribe and declares You are not this child’s family. You are not enough. The tribe does not care. We will keep her in a non-Native family. We, the county, the state, the government will do as we see fit.

It is a brilliant plan to continue assimilation, to let them decide who is best to craft the spirit of a Native American child.

This past Saturday morning (March 18) I watched this man and his two-year old daughter make a craft where he traced her tiny hand on a picture frame. He doesn’t want to admit that his battle to raise his daughter may be over, but if he must accept it, he wants to remember the shape of her hand. He wants his tiny daughter to one day know he tried to make things different, that he fought for years to stay right by her side.

As Native people we recognize the deep significance of community and we recognize the deep loss when even one Native child is separated from the community. When will we look around and see all the lost children?

This case was a sham and a shame before the bull left the gate and I am so full of sadness and disappointment in you the Muscogee Nation. I do respect you and I am standing in the forest looking out at the beauty hoping and praying you will be more honorable with your saplings tomorrow.

Yanire kidda ya’ (See you down the way friend),

Mona M. Evans (She-Crys-Thunder), Cheraw/Lumbee, is the care coordinator for Strong Families Home Visiting Project – Culture is Prevention through the Native American Health Center in Oakland, California.