A tribal court granted a non-Indian couple permanent guardianship of a 13-month-old Navajo girl who had lived with them since birth but was brought to the reservation by Indian social workers.
Wednesday's ruling, which settled a 41/2-month dispute between the tribe and the biological mother and foster parents of Allyssa Kristian Keetso-Pitts, leaves the child with two mothers."I don't have any problems with that," a relieved Cheryl Pitts said after Judge Manuel Watchman of the Navajo Tribal Children's Court granted her and her husband, Rick Pitts, permanent custody of Allyssa, while maintaining the parental and visitation rights of the biological mother, Patricia Keetso.
Keetso, 22, a tribal member who has lived with the Pittses in San Jose, Calif., since shortly before Allyssa's birth, said she hopes her daughter will understand why she has two mothers.
"That's the most important thing; I didn't do this because I don't love her. I did this because I love her so much. I just hope she'll understand," Keetso said.
While she was pregnant and unmarried, Keetso contacted the Pittses through a newspaper advertisement about adoption of her child. She said she loves the Pittses and considers them as family.
The case drew national attention in April when tribal social workers took the girl, then 81/2 months old, from the Pittses and Keetso at San Jose's airport and returned the child to the reservation for three days.
The Pittses originally sought outright adoption, but the tribe intervened this year under the Indian Child Welfare Act, which gives tribes jurisdiction over custody of Indian children in adoption proceedings involving non-Indians.
Watchman approved an April 22 agreement giving the Pittses permanent guardianship and custody, a proposal supported by Keetso and the child's grandparents, Susie and Howard Keetso.
Under the agreement, the tribe will retain jurisdiction until Allyssa is 18, when she can petition for adoption, Pitts said.
Cheryl Pitts, 34, said Allyssa will retain her culture and receive a Navajo census number as an official tribal member. "We pretty much got what we all wanted. I'm so glad it's over. I feel really happy that we can go home and be a normal family," she said, her voice breaking.
Rick Pitts estimated that the legal proceedings surrounding Allyssa's custody had cost him and his wife $23,000 to $25,000, in addition to about $30,000 in lost business.
But concerns over the couple's financial ability to support the child, and the child's retaining her Navajo culture and heritage, were satisfied by testimony at the hearing, Rick Pitts said.
Cheryl Pitts said she looked forward to not having "to wake up every morning and wonder if she (Allyssa) was going to be there or not."