Father of Cherokee girl in Indian adoption case honored in Tulsa
TULSA, Okla. — The biological father of a Cherokee girl at the center of a lengthy custody dispute was honored in an elaborate ceremony Tuesday by the National Congress of American Indians.
Dozens of military veterans filed into a downtown convention hall to honor Dusten Brown — a member of the Cherokee Nation and the father of 4-year-old Veronica — and recognize his service with the Oklahoma National Guard. The congress is holding its 70th annual convention this week in Tulsa.
Last week, Brown announced he was dropping all custody claims and was working with the South Carolina couple who adopted Veronica on ways he could be involved in the girl's life.
During a ceremony that featured drumming and Native American songs, tribal members wrapped a brightly colored prayer quilt around Brown. The gift is intended to comfort him on the days he misses his daughter. Brown was also presented with an eagle feather to honor his service in the military.
"He is a good man, a good soldier and a good father," said S. Joe Crittenden, deputy principal chief of the Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation. "Veronica will always be a Cherokee citizen, and we look forward to the day she comes home to Dusten."
Sandy White Hawk, who works on Native American adoption cases, called on attendees to pray for Brown and for Matt and Melanie Capobianco, Veronica's adoptive parents.
"Pray for all the Veronicas in our communities; all the Dustens in our communities," she also said.
Veronica has been the subject of court battles since she was born to a non-Cherokee mother, who put the girl up for adoption. The Capobiancos had been lined up to receive custody since 2009.
Brown, who did not speak during the ceremony, pressed claims under the Indian Child Welfare Act and won custody when the girl was 27 months old. The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed in 1978 with the intent of reducing the high rates of Native American children being adopted by non-Native American families.
But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act didn't apply because Brown had been absent from Veronica's life — setting into motion a flurry of legal cases in several Oklahoma counties over custody of the girl.
Oklahoma's Supreme Court last month dissolved an order keeping her in the state.
An email message sent to a spokeswoman for the Capobiancos seeking comment on the ceremony was not immediately returned Tuesday.
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