With the blessing of a Navajo tribal court in Arizona, a couple that has raised a 9-month-old Navajo girl since birth arrived back home Friday night with temporary custody of the infant.
"Now we're going to go home and put her to bed and have a big celebration, that's for sure," said Rick Pitts, 33, San Jose, after the tribal court at Tuba City, Ariz., reached a compromise agreement over custody of the child.After a lengthy legal tug of war, the Pitts were named temporary guardians of the child, Allyssa Keetso, after the couple assured a tribal court she could visit relatives on the Navajo reservation two to three times a year.
Under a 1978 law, Indian tribes have jurisdiction over the adoption of Indian children, but the tribe had not given prior permission for adoption of the girl by the Pittses.
Another tribal hearing will be held in three months on a final agreement in which the Pitts hope to gain permanent guardianship of the girl.
The Navajo mother, Patricia Keetso, remains her legal mother under the temporary agreement and likely will remain so under the final agreement so the child can retain her tribal ties, officials said.
"This satisfies the Navajo Nation," Anselm Roanhorse, director of the tribe's division of social welfare, said after the hearing. "It is hoped that in the future, the pain felt by all sides can be avoided."
Pitts said the child would remain with the couple until the hearings in three to four months.
"I'm just about as happy as anyone can be," he said. "I have my baby home. We're so thankful."
The Pittses said the tribal court decision came during a seven-hour closed door hearing attended by attorneys, social workers and family members but not the Pittses.
Cheryl Pitts said the couple was not seeking to adopt the child because "adoption means total separation to the Navajos. We want legal guardianship. It's part of our agreement that she would visit her relatives" on the reservation.
Mrs. Pitts, also 33, had one child but was unable to have any more. She and her husband had sought unsuccessfully to adopt a second child and finally hired an adoption attorney who advertised in a tribal newspaper.
The ad was answered by Patricia Keetso, seven months pregnant, who agreed to allow the Pittes to adopt her child. She gave birth two months later in a San Jose hospital with Cheryl Pitts at her side and turned over the child.
The conflict over custody of the child grew from a 1978 law that sought to strengthen Native American families and traditions by giving tribes jurisdiction over the adoption of Indian children.
The tribe won a court order to bring the child back to the reservation for the hearing.