Groups Argue Over Effectiveness Of Indian Child Welfare Act

Thursday, September 12th 2013, 4:24 pm
By: News On 6

Editors note: After this story originally aired, Jessica Munday asked News On 6 to clarify that she says she has not heard of a positive outcome from ICWA but is interested in learning about cases where ICWA played a positive role."

An expert with the United Nations is speaking out for Veronica, the little girl caught in a years-long custody battle between her adoptive parents in South Carolina and her biological father in Oklahoma.

James Anaya is with the U.N.'s Human Rights Council. He said the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and Veronica's cultural heritage should be major factors in deciding who gets custody. But a group with ties to Veronica's adoptive parents want it changed.

Veronica's case is shining a spotlight on the ICWA, after she was adopted by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a non-Indian couple who live in South Carolina.

"Of course, the whole purpose and objective behind ICWA is to preserve the culture and traditions of a tribe," said attorney Joe Williams, a Mississippi Choctaw tribal member, who has worked on some ICWA cases. "There are times when it does work and that the child is maintained in the tribe and there are times when there are just legal fights."

9/9/2013 Related Story: Governors Of South Carolina, Oklahoma Discuss 'Baby Veronica' Case

Veronica's case is certainly one of those legal fights, and it's spurred a movement to change the law.

Jessica Munday lives in South Carolina and acts as the Capobiancos' spokeswoman. She's also a founding member of a group called the Coalition for the Protection of Indian Children and Families.

Another member of the coalition is Troy Dunn, known as "Troy the Locator."

The organization was founded after Munday met the Capobiancos, and its stated mission is to amend ICWA. The coalition has asked Congress to protect Native children who have been placed in a good home to give them the same rights as other American children.

Munday told us, "There are many other families and children out there being hurt by ICWA. We would welcome input from the tribes as to how positive change can come about. In the meantime, we can not ignore these families."

9/11/2013 Related Story: Court Rules Baby Desirai Must Be Returned To Oklahoma

Munday said she has never heard of a positive outcome coming from ICWA.

"Well, I would disagree with that," said Williams.

Williams admitted ICWA is not perfect, but said the whole point of the law is to allow Native American tribes the chance to look out for their own people.

He said Native American tribes have the right, like any other nation, to make their own decisions, especially when it comes to whether its children are allowed to be counted as citizens.

"That's not good for a tribe, because they rely on their membership base to continue to thrive, to continue to be a sovereign nation," Williams said.

Munday said her group has met with lawmakers in Washington about a half-dozen times to amend ICWA.

An Oregon-based organization called the National Indian Child Welfare Association said Munday's coalition is a repackaged group that has always been against tribal sovereignty.