Lost Tribe

Grand Prairie's Henry Clayton has proclaimed himself chief of the new 'nato Nation. Is he the head of Texas' largest Indian tribe-or an indian impostor?

She has lived a fast life, drinking tequila in gulps to come down from her speed highs. She recently married an addict two months out of drug rehab. "I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of," she says. "But I'm sure as hell not going to lie about them."

Her husband, Robert, a self-described former practitioner of black magic, shakes his head in agreement and smiles, revealing a dark hole where a front tooth used to be.

Rebeka and Robert Lochhead are the first to admit their life is a precarious balancing act. They struggle each day to care for their kids, stay off drugs, and stay civil to each other. The Lochheads' three-year relationship has been marked by numerous violent episodes. Still, they bristle at the idea of anyone interfering with the rearing of their children.

Their defensiveness and anger is reserved particularly for Henry Clayton, whose daughter believes is trying to gain custody of her kids. She has refused to let Clayton see them since June.

Clayton denies he wants custody. But earlier this summer Clayton petitioned a Utah state district court, which had previously ruled on custody of Rebeka's children, to turn over the case to the 'Nato tribal court in his office in Grand Prairie.

"I just want jurisdiction, so I can monitor the children's welfare," Clayton says. He also wants to make sure they are learning about their Indian culture, something that Robert derides.

"Being an Indian is special, but it offends him," Rebeka says, shooting Robert an ugly glance.

"I'm a racist," Robert says matter-of-factly. "My background is German and we haven't gotten around to playing Germans and Indians yet."

Clayton believes he has federal law on his side. The federal government, under the Indian Child Welfare Act, allows a tribal court to assume exclusive jurisdiction in deciding custody and foster care placement of Indian children. The law, of course, is meant to apply to federally recognized tribes--not a tribe that just minted itself. Clayton, naturally, vehemently disputes that interpretation of the law.

The jurisdiction issue began last fall, when the Lochheads' stormy relationship took a particularly bad turn. They were living in Logan, Utah, and Rebeka had gotten clean of drugs when she learned she was pregnant again. She was enraged, Clayton says, to find out that Robert, nicknamed "Speedy," had taken the six-month-old twins with him to score some drugs.

She threw Robert out of the house. He threatened to take the children away. Rebeka decided to file for custody, child support payments from Robert, and a restraining order against him.

Clayton suggested his daughter file her case in his court established by the 'Nato Nation, in which Rebeka and her twins were enrolled. She, nevertheless, chose to file in a Utah state court, because it was closer than 'Nato headquarters. Clayton paid for her attorney and her court costs.

Clayton stayed for the first hearing, where a visiting judge awarded Rebeka temporary custody. She moved to Idaho, to be near a sister and away from Robert. He soon followed, and they continued to fight.

In December, Rebeka accused her sister of sexually abusing her two children. Clayton and Ted McGehee, 'Nato's head of law enforcement, decided they needed to investigate the case themselves and have 'Nato assume jurisdiction. On their way to Idaho, the duo visited Utah First District Judge Gordon Low. He agreed to transfer jurisdiction, Clayton says, after he received a motion from Clayton.

Clayton says he wanted jurisdiction, in part, as a preemptive strike. If U.S. authorities had to step in and remove the children, he feared the tribe would lose them, which is part of the rationale for the Indian Child Welfare Act. "It could take five years and $50,000 to get them back," Clayton explains.

Clayton and McGehee worked with Idaho child welfare authorities and together they determined that the children had not been abused. "They had to work with us," says McGehee. "We're a government."

Rebeka assured her father that she could handle raising her children and keep Robert away. Clayton and McGehee returned home.

By January, Henry Clayton was back in Idaho. Robert had kicked in Rebeka's door and pushed her around, says Clayton, and Rebeka retaliated by hitting him in the head with a frying pan. Rebeka told her father she feared for her life. Clayton arranged for one of their tribal members--the son of Kerry Cartier, tribal spokesman, who lived nearby in Utah--to get Rebeka and the children into a Utah battered woman's shelter. Clayton arrived in Utah and picked up the children; Rebeka had signed over temporary custody. Rebeka would follow them to Texas, after she gave birth to her baby girl, whom she named Shanteewah, a Cherokee word for "coming of the Lord."

Rebeka and the children stayed with her father for a few months before she was ready to strike out on her own. Clayton helped her lease and furnish an apartment in Grand Prairie. A devout Mormon, Rebeka also sought help from the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Grand Prairie.

The way Clayton sees it, all was going well--until Robert showed up again. "I had a conniption fit," Clayton says. "He said he was off drugs, but he was still drawing pictures of demons. You don't want your children exposed to things like that."

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