OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Supporters of both sides in a dispute over the adoption of a Native American girl known as “Baby Veronica” held separate rallies in Oklahoma just days after adoptive and birth parents agreed to mediation to resolve the custody battle.
Some of those supporting Dusten Brown, the biological father of the girl who is fighting to keep her from going back to an adoptive family in South Carolina, rallied on Monday at the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City.
Sarah Adams-Cornell, an organizer of the rally said it highlighted the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law passed in 1978, that attempts to give Native American tribes control over their children.
The law was meant to end decades of abuse during which many tribal children were taken away and raised by non-Native families or in boarding schools where they were sometimes not allowed to speak their indigenous languages.
A separate prayer vigil supporting Veronica’s adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, was held Sunday in Tulsa, and organizers also prayed for the Brown family.
On Friday, the two sides agreed to mediation, although details of any negotiations over custody of the girl were shrouded under a judge’s gag order in Cherokee County Court.
The case has highlighted overlapping parental claims in two states, and the clash between a Native American culture seeking to protect children from being adopted outside their tribes and U.S. legal safeguards for adoptive parents. The situation has become so emotionally wrenching that the governors in Oklahoma and South Carolina have spoken on the phone about it and are pushing for a resolution outside of the court.
Veronica’s birth mother, who is not Native American, arranged the adoption with the Capobiancos before the girl was born. Veronica lived with them after her birth in 2009. Brown intervened in 2010 before the adoption process was final, and a South Carolina family court ordered that Veronica be turned over to Brown in December 2011.
Brown has argued that when he turned over parental rights to the girl’s mother, he did not realize she would put the child up for adoption.
Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation who was not married to the birth mother, argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 allowed him to have Veronica, who is 3/256th Cherokee.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling and decided the act did not apply in Veronica’s situation. The adoption by the Capobiancos was finalized in South Carolina in July.
But Brown refused to give up Veronica and was arrested on August 12 in Oklahoma on a charge of “custodial interference.” The Capobiancos have said they are willing to compromise with a resolution that allows Veronica to maintain a relationship with her Oklahoma family.
Reporting By Heidi Handes in Oklahoma City; Editing by Greg McCune and Ken Wills