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Drawing blood

"Drawing blood" Continued...

Issue: "Meltdown," April 22, 2006

CAICW asserts that ICWA elevates tribal heritage above any other sort of heritage. For example, if a tribe requires one-sixteenth blood quantum for membership and intervenes in an adoption case, the child's Indian ancestry is said to trump his majority heritage, even if the child is fifteen-sixteenths Hispanic.

But NICWA director Cross said the law's reach isn't based on race. ICWA governs "a political status . . . it's an issue of citizenship," Mr. Cross said. A member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Mr. Cross told WORLD that Native American children are always better off with a tribal family. Even an itinerant placement plan, he said, in which a child moved from tribal home to tribal home-a few months with a distant aunt, several weeks with a cousin, another few months with another relative, even if those relatives were strangers-would be "superior" to placement in a nontribal home, even if the child had already bonded with foster parents for a year and was established in school.

Lisa Morris and her husband, Roland, co-founded CAICW before he died of cancer in 2004. Mr. Morris was a member of the Minnesota Tribe of Leech Lake Indians. After watching many Indian children treated poorly under ICWA, the Morrises began to speak out. But they found it difficult to penetrate the bubble of institutionalized Native Americanism.

In 1997, for example, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held hearings to consider amending ICWA. "We asked Sen. [Max] Baucus if we could testify," Mrs. Morris said. "He said no, they had everyone they needed to testify."

Those who did testify included tribal leadership, tribal lawyers, social-services employees, and people working in the adoption industry. "You didn't see non-Indian foster parents and adoptive parents," Mrs. Morris said. "You didn't see Indian children who have grown up in white homes. You don't see people like our family who have moved off the reservation and made a different life. No one is asking why they made that choice."

Despite the legal hurdles, Chris and Anthony officially became Moores in 2002. This year, the Moores added a daughter to their family, Ashley, who is part Hispanic and also a descendant of the Lumbee tribe. At 14 and charmingly frank, Ashley had bounced around the foster-care system for seven years after being abused by her mother. She now says the whole concept of race as a basis for adoption is "crazy." After Ashley's grandfather objected to the Moores' adopting her because of their skin color, she even made a running joke of it: "Now I tell my parents, you can't help me with my homework because you're white."

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