Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Termination Of Parental Rights Difficult, More So When Child Is Native American

Dear Tazi:

My eight year old daughter is the light of my life and I would do anything I can to make her happy – but I am stuck and don’t know what to do right now. “Amy’s” father walked out on us while I was eight months pregnant. My current husband, “Gerald”, is the only father Amy has ever known. Amy knows that he is not her “real” father but she calls Gerald “Daddy” and tells him that she wants him to be her “real Daddy”. Amy has friends who are adopted, and she has told us on several occasions that she wants Gerald to adopt her.

Gerald and I have always shielded Amy from the truth of why he has not legally adopted her, telling her that the legal process can be tricky and she needs to be old enough to tell the judge that this is her idea and that she will not be changing her mind when she gets a little older. Up until now, she has seemed satisfied with that explanation, but for the past few years, as her birthday approaches, she asks if she is old enough for Gerald to adopt her.

Tazi, the truth is that Amy’s father was a Native American Indian and his tribe has made quite a bit of wealth through casino gaming – wealth that comes to Amy through tribe-sponsored child support and eventually benefits that every adult member of the tribe receives, should she decide that tribal membership is what she wants; so far, she has had no involvement in her father’s culture. Because of the way the law works with Indian children, Gerald and I would have to petition the tribe for a release for Gerald to adopt her. If Amy’s birth father decides he wants to be a part of her life again, I will be forced to allow that to happen – even though he is a lazy drunkard who abandoned me while I was pregnant! Even if he does not want anything to do with Amy, she would lose a lot of financial benefits if Gerald were to adopt her – from the child support I now receive to vestment in the tribe.

While I admit the child support money is helpful, I would make do without it if that was all Amy stood to lose. I only want what is best for my daughter and the future that she currently has is perfectly secure, while her present home life is a happy one. How can I risk throwing that all away? How can I explain to her why I have decided as I have – to not let Gerald legally adopt Amy?

Amy’s Mom

Dear Amy’s Mom:

If your decision was solely a financially motivated one my answer would be different than the one I am going to provide. A secure financial future is never a guarantee; casinos can and do fail, as many are in the current economy. If you can “make do” without your daughter’s child support your best move to provide her a secure financial future would be to save and invest that money on her behalf. So ends one part of your problem. Now to address the more complicated part: the legalities of terminating parental rights.

The termination of parental rights is difficult under mainstream circumstances, but your daughter’s direct Native American heritage invokes the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA 1978). I have no doubt that your daughter’s tribe is going to want a say in things, especially if her father lives on the reservation. I cannot say I disagree with this legislation.

The purpose of the ICWA is to ensure that Native American children are given the opportunity to be come culturally aware of their heritage and to participate in tribal customs and celebrations; to be taught history from the tribal point of view (which differs vastly from what you read in most history books); and to allow the child to maintain ties with his or her extended tribal family. Have you done any of this for Amy? Or have you simply erased all sense of anything having to do with her birth father?

I suggest that you contact your local Bureau of Indian Affairs and ask for an appointment to discuss your situation. At eight years old, Amy is at an age where she will have questions about who she is and where she came from (and I don’t mean that in a purely biological sense). When her birth father abandoned you, he also cut Amy off from any connection to her tribal family – aunts, uncles, cousins, and others who are a part of who she is. What is best for your daughter is not always the easiest path for you as a parent.

Explain to the Bureau representative that your child’s father (ex-boyfriend, ex-husband, ex-lover…whatever he is) cut off all contact with you when you were eight months pregnant. Explain that he was an unemployed alcoholic and the habits he exhibited. You call him “a drunkard” which leads me to believe he was violent, as well. The Bureau of Indian Affairs should be willing to work with you on this matter to ensure that your daughter’s welfare is put first at all times. Although it is unusual for parental rights to be terminated by the tribe (who would have jurisdiction if your ex lives on tribal lands), arrangements can be made to protect your daughter.

Although Gerald may not be able to legally adopt Amy, there are things you can do as a family to make Amy feel like she is part of a complete circle. I suggest that you have your own, family-oriented “adoption ceremony” or, if you are religious, ask your clergy to bless you as a family in the eyes of your church or synagogue. Make the event special for Amy; something that she will always remember. It will be especially important to do this if Amy is to get involved with her tribal family. She needs to know that even though legal bonds can be dissolved, those tied with heartstrings can never be broken.



Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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