Born with a severe cleft palate, 13-year-old Allen Trucks sees himself as an abandoned used car lucky enough to have caught the eye of a new owner.
Allen's Ute mother, who gave him up for adoption at birth, wants him to return to the Uintah and Ouray Reservation to live with her. But he's determined to stay with the foster mother in Heber City who reared him and saw him through six operations to repair disfiguring birth defects."I feel like an old used car, abandoned and nobody wanted me. I needed repairs," said Allen, who needs three more surgeries to finish reconstruction of his jaw and face.
"A man came by and thinks, `What a neat car.' He takes the wrecked car and fixes it up. Then the original owner thinks it looks sharp and wants it back," Allen said.
His foster mother, Vickie Trucks, has been told a hearing has been scheduled May 25 before a Ute tribal judge to begin the legal process that will determine with whom Allen lives until he becomes an adult. However, she has received no official notice of the hearing.
"If they give me to my Indian mom, I'm just going to run away. I don't know her and I don't want to know her. Why hasn't anyone asked me what I want?" Allen said.
Evangeline Antencio was 16 years old when she gave birth to Allen, said Monty Bolton of the Utah Department of Social Services. At five weeks, the infant was turned over by state social services
to Vickie and Charlie Trucks, who had been seeking to adopt a child.
More than a year later, Alan was briefly returned to his mother, but then was given back to the Trucks when social workers determined he was not being given proper care on the reservation and had suffered a partial hearing loss.
Charlie Trucks was killed in a motorcycle accident in February 1982. Later that year, after Allen's Indian grandfather testified against Vickie Trucks' pending adoption of Allen, the tribal court asked her if she would keep Allen in unsupervised custody until he was 18. At that time Allen could decide whether to return to the tribe or be adopted.
Trucks contends she was not told that under the agreement, the tribe retained the power to take Allen from her. Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, tribal officials have ultimate jurisdiction over tribal members, said Tribal Chairman Lester Chapoose.
Antencio, who lives with four young children on the eastern Utah reservation, has no telephone and could not be reached for comment, even through relatives.
Chapoose said Antencio receives $400 a month from the tribe for each of her four children and herself, but nevertheless is poor. If she gains custody of Allen, she would receive an additional $400 a month, he said.
"Our members are hard up and there is a high unemployment rate," Chapoose said. "I know Evangeline and that she needs the money the boy gets."
Allen, who was named Ulysses Cuch at birth but doesn't like the name, had not seen any of his Indian relatives for six years when, last summer, Antencio stopped by to ask Vickie Trucks Allen's sizes. She said she would return with clothes and shoes.
A month later, she returned without the clothes and said she had registered Allen with the tribe and Vickie Trucks could take him to get a tribal identification card.
Allen said that his natural mother did not even say hello to him on either visit.
When Trucks went to Fort Duchesne to get the card, she was told Allen had been registered for a year and that Antencio had submitted at least one bill for $569, for a night stand and dresser, against Allen's account. The tribe stopped payment because Trucks had been paying all of Allen's expenses, she said.
Trucks said she has left the funds in the account for Allen to use when he becomes an adult.
A good student, Allen recently had the lead in a school production of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and plays the guitar, sings and is interested in computers. But his grades, typically A's and B's, have dropped to D's and F's since February because of stress over the question of custody, Trucks said.
The tribe has appointed an attorney to represent Allen's interests in the case, and Chapoose said Allen would be interviewed to determine his wishes. But he said the ultimate decision would rest with the tribal judge. The tribe's governing Business Committee can, if it chooses, quash any appeal, said Dennis Ickes, Trucks' attorney.
"We will assess what the boy has now, and what she (Antencio) would be able to give him, to make our decision," Chapoose said. "It is certain that those who have raised this boy for so many years should have input. We will want to know what the boy has to say."
Trucks, 35, who had been working as a housekeeper until surgery for a leg injury in February, lives with her mother, Allen, and a natural son, Robbie, 8. She receives Social Security payments for herself and Robbie totaling $1,176 a month and owns a home in Pleasant Grove.
Ickes, who was the first deputy director of the Office of Indian Rights in the Justice Department, said the case is one of "numerous tragedies occurring" because of deficiencies in the Indian Child Welfare Act.
In a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, he urged that Congress impose a statute of limitations on children being "recalled by the natural parents after an extended period of time."