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Oklahoma City Family Says Indian Child Welfare Act Is Being Misused

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Alicia Towler and her husband fought for a year and a half with the Cherokee nation over the adoption of their daughter, Ashlyn. Alicia Towler and her husband fought for a year and a half with the Cherokee nation over the adoption of their daughter, Ashlyn.
Charles Tripp is with Legal Advocates for Indian Country. Charles Tripp is with Legal Advocates for Indian Country.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

The custody battles involving little Veronica and Baby Desirai have thrust a 1978 federal law in the spotlight.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed to give Native American tribes a larger role in the adoption of Indian children.

An Oklahoma City family says that law is being abused and needs to be changed.

Ashlyn Towler will be two years old in October.

Alicia Towler and her husband met Ashlyn's biological mother when she was five months pregnant. The biological mother and father agreed to let the Towlers adopt the little girl and filed court papers asking for a waiver from the Indian Child Welfare Act, because Ashlyn's maternal side of the family is Cherokee.

Shortly after she was born, however, the Cherokee Nation challenged the adoption under ICWA.

"Devastation, shock and a lot of disbelief and wondering, 'Why?'" Towler said.

The Cherokee Nation said it should be allowed to decide who should get custody. The tribe fought the adoption for a year and a half.

9/12/2013 Related Story: Groups Argue Over Effectiveness Of Indian Child Welfare Act

"See, it still gets me, the fear of losing that child is unreal and you can't even describe it," Towler said.

A judge eventually granted the Towlers custody and the adoption was finalized this past January.

Towler said the adoption should have never been challenged, adding it's a perfect example of what's wrong with ICWA.

"The original intent of the law, I think, is okay. It's just the way it's being abused and put to use now, and because of the way it was originally written allows for that," Towler said.

Supporters of ICWA say it's needed to protect children from unethical adoption agencies and protect cultural heritage.

Charles Tripp is with Legal Advocates for Indian Country.

"We have to continue to fight for our children, because they're not a piece of property to be sold or be boughten [sic] or to be traded. They are children of our tribe and we care about them," Tripp said.

Towler said they plan to enroll Ashlyn in the Cherokee Nation, and are doing everything they can to make sure she knows her cultural identity.

She said now that the court battle is over, life with Ashlyn is pure joy.

"Everyday is absolutely amazing, because we don't have that fear and that not knowing hanging over us," Towler said.

She said the law should consider the wishes of the birth parents if they are in agreement, how long the child has been placed with a family, and if the child has already formed a bond with the adoptive parents.

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