A Navajo medicine man Monday prayed over an ailing 8 1/2-month-old girl caught in a custody tug-of-war involving the tribe, her natural mother and her would-be adoptive parents, a lawyer in the case said.
"A ceremony is being conducted for the health and well-being of the child," said Linda Lach, attorney for Cheryl and Rick Pitts of San Jose, Calif., the foster parents seeking to adopt the child who has lived with them since birth.The child, Allyssa Kristian Pitts, whose natural mother, Patricia Keetso, is a Navajo, was turned over to Navajo officials Thursday on orders from a Santa Clara, Calif., County judge. The judge ruled the tribe would keep the baby until a Navajo court decides on custody.
Keetso supports the California couple's bid for custody, and members of the Pitts and Keetso families said the health of the asthmatic child was neglected by the tribe, which wants a Navajo to raise the girl. Tribal officials denied the child was neglected.
Mike Nelson, the Pittses' Arizona attorney, said he plans to ask a Navajo judge Wednesday to award temporary custody of Allyssa to the couple until a final decision is made.
Allyssa's natural grandmother, Susie Keetso of Tuba City, said she found the child in a Navajo foster home Sunday and took her to the hospital, where staff members called Patricia Keetso and Cheryl Pitts.
"Someone from the hospital called and said they needed the mothers immediately," said Mary Ellen Pitts, Cheryl's mother-in-law. "She (Allyssa) just screamed and reached out for Cheryl. She just clutched and clutched at her neck."
Cheryl Pitts said Alyssa had a fever of 102 degrees and showed signs of an asthma attack.
"She stunk bad. Real bad," Pitts said. "She had a fever and was throwing up all over. She was real scared."
Karen Diakun, Navajo spokeswoman, denied the child had been neglected. She said the Pittses refused to provide tribal officials with medical information on the baby and never offered to give the officials the child's medication.
She also said the Pittses verbally and physically abused the social workers when they met to turn over Allyssa.
Both mothers are with the child in a Tuba City home, Mary Ellen Pitts said. She said she was unsure if tribal officials knew the location of the child.
Pitts, 33, and Keetso, 21, had been searching the reservation for the child since Navajo officials took her Thursday. They said they were concerned because the officials refused to take the child's asthma medicine.
"I think they neglected her," Patricia Keetso said. "I was just trying to give my baby a wonderful life with a good family. I can't believe they've put her through all this to prove a point."
Keetso, who does not live on the reservation, contacted the Pittses through a newspaper ad and lived with them before and after the child's birth.