By Andrea Plaid
As you know, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) did the One Step Forward/Three Steps Back Dance when it came to rights for marginalized people. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-gender marriage and made rather questionable rulings regarding affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the justices’ ruling negatively impacted Native American nations’ right to their children and, ultimately, tribal self-determination. Colorlines’ Aura Bogado explains in the most popular post of this past week:
In a 5 to 4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not block termination of a Native father’s parental rights. The court appears to have ruled as if it was deciding the issue based on race—when a better lens to understand the case, called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is through tribal sovereignty.
First, some quick background on the case and on ICWA itself [sic]. Christy Maldonado gave birth to a baby in 2009 whose father, Dusten Brown, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Because of self-determination, the Cherokee Nation decides who its citizens are—and because Dusten Brown is Cherokee, his baby, named Veronica, is Cherokee as well. Maldonado and Brown lost touch by the time the baby was born, and Brown was never informed of the baby’s birth. Maldonado decided to put the baby up for adoption, and a white couple named Melanie and Matt Capobianco took Veronica into pre-adoptive care.
So what does ICWA do? The act was created because of incredibly high rates of white parents adopting Native children; in states like Minnesota, that have large Native populations, non-Natives raised 90 percent of Native babies and children put up for adoption. Those adoptions sever ties to Native tribes and communities, endangering the very existence of these tribes and nations. In short, if enough Native babies are adopted out, there will literally not be enough citizens to compose a nation. ICWA sought to stem that practice by creating a policy that keeps Native adoptees with their extended families, or within their tribes and nations. The policy speaks to the core point of tribal sovereignty: Native tribes and nations use it to determine their future, especially the right to keep their tribes and nations together.
But leave it to the Supreme Court to miss the point altogether this morning. The prevailing justices failed to honor tribal sovereignty in today’s ruling.
The rulings on the VRA and the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) brought forth this well-liked and oft-reblogged excerpt from poet and BuzzFeed’s LGBT Editor Saeed Jones:
Sitting in my hotel room here in Charlotte, North Carolina — a state that just last year passed a ban on same-sex marriages — I kept staring at the bright, blank sky outside my window, hoping to latch onto a word of my own. I was happy, yes, but also heartsick. The much welcomed end of DOMA and Prop 8 comes just 24 hours after the Supreme Court essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act. As such, many queer people of color — myself included — feel conflicted, to say the least. (I won’t even entertain the word “bittersweet” here.)
The Voting Rights Act, essentially a cornerstone of the civil rights movement, is arguably as significant an issue for African-Americans as marriage equality is for LGBT Americans. My grandfather was one of the first black men in Memphis to drive buses for the city. When the daily clashes between civil rights activists and police began, he kept driving buses downtown, against my family’s wishes, so that marchers could get to the protest. My grandmother, one of the first black nurses in Memphis, was cutting coconut cake on her birthday when the radio in the living room announced that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. The civil rights movement and the significance of the Voting Rights Act are as viscerally significant to my identity as the blood that connects me to my grandparents. As writer Michael Arceneaux, a black gay man, put it this morning on Twitter: “Shorter SCOTUS: Gays up, Blacks down.” If such a blunt assessment makes you uncomfortable, imagine what it feels like to be a queer person of color today.
There is so much work left to do, but I really was hoping that maybe, just once, I could dance without having to look over my shoulder.
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