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Oklahoma Adoption Case Before Supreme Court Has National Implications

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"Baby Veronica." "Baby Veronica."
The couple who adopted Veronica, Matt and Melanie Capobianco. The couple who adopted Veronica, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

An Oklahoma adoption will go before the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday. The court will decide whether a non-Indian family can adopt a girl with Cherokee blood.

The case will impact a law designed to keep Indian children with tribal families.

The little girl, Veronica, and her father are Cherokee, so when her mother tried to put her up for adoption, laws to protect the tribes came into play.

Veronica is in the middle of a family dispute with much broader implications than just what happens to her.

Veronica's unmarried mother put her up for adoption before she was born, but the father objected. He won custody of his daughter in lower courts, but the family who first had custody of her appealed it to the Supreme court, which hear the arguments Tuesday.

1/4/2013 Related Story: Supreme Court To Review Native American Adoption Involving Oklahoma Girl

The Cherokee Nation is leading the opposition to the adoption, arguing the child will be better off with her biological father, and that the Indian Child Welfare Act trumps the wishes of the biological mother.

"This case is about family and about preserving American Indian heritage and culture," said Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker. "Winning is critical for a continuation of our tribal nation. The outcome is important for the Cherokee Nation and all of Indian Country."

The Indian tribes have much at stake, and hundreds of tribes are supporting the effort to keep the law intact. They believe, if it's struck down, their children are at risk for unscrupulous adoptions, and their tribes will lose more of their cultural identity.


"It's about upholding the Indian Child Welfare act as it was written and as it has been applied, because it is in the best interest of children," said Terry Cross, with the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

1/5/2012 Related Story: Cherokee Nation Defends Federal Law In Multi-State Child Custody Battle

The case has been argued in family courts and even on The Dr. Phil Show. One key moment was the televised transfer of custody, from the potential adoptive family to Dusten Brown, the biological father.

The family now lives in Nowata. The tribe's legal team said Veronica is right where she needs to be.

"She's smart and funny and happy and she's doing wonderfully," Cherokee Nation Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo.

The court will hear an hour of arguments in the morning, with two sets of lawyers for each side.

Indian tribes are planning a prayer vigil on the steps of the supreme court in the morning.

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