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?

Henry Clayton is a short, plump man with a sharp, angular nose. He wears a pearl-button western shirt, a beaded necklace and ties his hair back in a pony tail. He looks, at least, like what he claims to be--the chief of the largest Indian tribe in Texas.

A 48-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, Clayton says he is part Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Comanche, though he has not sought official membership in any of those tribes.

Instead, Clayton, his older brother and two of their buddies, who also felt the pull of their Native American heritage, set out to create a tribe of their own. The group has fashioned a tribe like no other in the country, composed not of direct lineal descendants of one of North America's many tribes, but of anyone with known or presumed Indian blood.

Clayton is chief of a melting pot tribe, the Native American version of the Rainbow Coalition. They call themselves the 'Nato Nation.

The 'Nato Nation declares that it is a sovereign nation with its own government, judiciary and police force. Unlike most of the nation's 553 Indian groups who are sovereign entities in the eyes of the U.S. government, 'Nato believes they can claim this privilege without federal recognition. What's more, 'Nato, based on an acronym that stands for Native American Tribal Organization, would go even further, Clayton says, uniting Indians nationwide under its banner, to bring peace, harmony, and a better way of living to Native Americans on the reservation and off.

Though Clayton paints a picture of a coast-to-coast tribal utopia, for now 'Nato nation exists only as a small, windowless office in Grand Prairie, the titles the four founders have bestowed on one another, and a handsome campfire logo.

And as he pursues his vision of a tribal confederation under 'Nato's umbrella, Clayton is unconcerned that his quest flies in the face of the traditions of most tribes and federal laws dealing with Native American recognition. Nor does he care that his actions are arousing the suspicions and ire of historical Indian organizations in the Metroplex, who wonder just what this group in Grand Prairie is actually up to.

Their suspicion is understandable. Clayton has energetically gone about trying to convince the Department of Defense, banking institutions, and at least one state court that his group is a legitimate, self-governing, Indian tribe.

The 'Nato Nation might be easily dismissed as whimsy, or a delusion of grandeur. But what Clayton is doing is an affront to organized Indian tribes that had to fight for years to be recognized by the U.S. government, then had to continue battling federal authorities for help to ensure their survival.

They say that what Clayton is attempting to do is both audacious and preposterous.

The four men who created 'Nato don't have the resumes you would expect from heads of state, which is, after all, what they consider themselves.

Henry Clayton says he made a living as a nuclear engineering technician, an education lobbyist in Utah, and director of his own handicapped job program, among other things, before maladies stemming from the Vietnam War--spinal deterioration from Agent Orange exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder--forced him into retirement. Raised a Mormon, he spent the last few years getting a degree from Dallas Baptist University, where he studied law and business.

His older brother Gil Clayton is a divorced father of six children and a car mechanic who teaches automotive skills to troubled teens at a Dallas job training center called the Texas Institute of Human Development. A former alcoholic, he is studying to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

Kerry Cartier, a public relations director for the Veteran's Administration who claims a half-Seneca maternal grandmother, met Henry Clayton in the late 1980s, when Cartier's son and Clayton's stepson were in a Boy Scout troop in Waxahachie. They immediately found a common bond in their appreciation for their heritage and a desire to help their Indian brethren.

Ted McGehee is a self-employed systems analyst from Fort Worth who installs and repairs electronic systems for trading rooms. Of the 'Nato chiefs, only he has proof of his Indian heritage, a card from the Bureau of Indian Affairs showing he is 3/32 Choctaw. An animated, talkative fellow with an enthusiasm for firearms, he recently completed a security guard course. He met Clayton two years ago at an Indian law seminar taught by a law professor from Oklahoma. They recognized each other as kindred spirits determined to create their own tribe.

The idea of an Indian tribe that would have anyone as a member was something Henry Clayton toyed with for 20-some years. But it wasn't until last summer that he incorporated 'Nato as a Texas non-profit organization to "promote the general welfare of the Tribe and its members."

As the first official act as a tribe, the four men voted each other chiefs. Henry Clayton was elected chief tribal court judge for what he calls "the 1st Federal District Court," which occupies the same tiny office as the 'Nato tribal headquarters. Gil Clayton became chief of family resources; Cartier is the tribal spokesman; and McGehee, fresh out of security guard school, was anointed head of security and law enforcement.

In a year, Clayton claims 'Nato Nation has swelled to several hundred members. Membership is free: "You either have it in your genes or you don't," says Kerry Cartier.

'Nato's membership actually numbers close to 5,000, the chiefs insist, because every relative of an enrollee is considered a member of the tribe--whether they know it or not. That dubious reckoning would make 'Nato larger than the three established, federally-recognized tribes in the state--the Texas Kickapoos in Eagle Pass, the Tiguas, who live east of El Paso, and the Alabama Couchatta, who live in Livingston, east of Hunstville.

But until 'Nato establishes itself, tangible benefits to its members are few. For ten dollars, however, 'Nato members are entitled to shop at Sam's Wholesale Club.

On the spiritual side, the tribe has not yet held a pow wow or engaged in any ritual, except for a wedding ceremony presided over by Henry Clayton for Ted McGehee's brother, Steve Nail, in Glen Rose last month. 'Nato says the spiritual side of the operation will come when they build a cultural center; Clayton says he is presently negotiating for property for such a center in Grand Prairie.

What 'Nato's founders have is a vision--or at least a vision statement, which articulates its positions. Among them:

--'Nato has continued the historical Indian means of determining tribal membership, in which one drop of Indian blood is all that matters, rather than adopting the discriminatory non-Indian requirement of one-quarter or more Indian blood.

--One need not look Indian to be Indian.
--'Nato is amalgamation of members from many tribal heritages...all of whom are encouraged to respect their tribal heritages and the tribal heritages of others...

--'Nato will not be relegated to a position of passivity, but will vigorously pursue programs to benefit Indians off-reservation and on, for the common good of Native Americans nationwide.

Just last week, Indians from around the country gathered in Washington to protest government funding cuts. Henry Clayton, who prefers to be called Judge Clayton, claims this is a gap that 'Nato could help fill. There's a need for Indians, particularly the more skilled urban Indians to become leaders and create substantial industries that are more mainstream than bingo and casinos, he says.

To that end, Clayton has spent time in recent months trying to acquire property--several school buildings and 20 acres--for his tribe from recently closed Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. His plan is to set up job training programs there.

Henry Clayton also claims to be negotiating with "a big bank" that is interested in funding some of his projects--including the cultural center--targeted at the Metroplex Indian population, which numbers more than 20,000. Clayton has been busy on other fronts as well. He has been corresponding with a Utah federal court, in an attempt to get a case--involving the custody of his grandchildren--transferred to 'Nato's tribal courts, of which he is the chief justice.

Depending on your perspective, 'Nato is either a Native American fraud, with Clayton and his cronies bent on self-aggrandizement and enrichment, or it is a well-intentioned effort to offer hope to people who, for one reason or another, cannot get accepted by an established tribe. Even if it's because they are not actually Indians.

The first thing 'Nato critics point to in questioning the tribe's authenticity is that it is not federally recognized. Beyond validation, federal recognition entitles tribal members to a raft of government benefits, from free medical care, to, in many cases, housing allowances and educational scholarships. Those benefits are administered by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, a division of the Department of the Interior.

A tribe that is federally recognized also is considered, in many respects, a sovereign government, which affords it certain taxing privileges and the ability, like other governments, to raise money through such means as issuing tax-free municipal bonds. It also allows it to apply for federal support for things like law enforcement and health and education services.

On the other hand, simply claiming that you are an Indian or an Indian tribe, no matter how earnestly, doesn't get you very far with the federal government--or most Indians.

"Self-identification does not make you a tribe, just like self-canonization does not make you a saint," says Ellis Burt, a Dallas attorney with an expertise in the complex arena of Indian law.

As America's indigenous peoples were displaced, their reservations moved, and members scattered, through the successive treaties with the government, tribal recognition became an intricate process that has befuddled even bona fide historic Indian tribes. According to the Code of Federal Regulations, in order for a tribe to be officially acknowledged, it must have been identified as an American Indian entity on a substantially continuous basis since 1900, demonstrate community, have political influence over its people, and proven descent from a historic tribe.

The 'Nato crew, which comes up short on every test, does not pretend to have a chance at federal recognition. But they argue they don't need it, nor want it. In Clayton's interpretation, federal recognition allows tribe only to qualify for services from the BIA, which he sees as a well-meaning detriment to Indian people. "It is a government agency that has served to control Indians, more than it has helped them," he says. "The BIA, like many government agencies, is dedicated mainly to its own self preservation."

It so happens that Clayton's rejection of the government's right to authenticate Indian tribes isn't that far-fetched a concept. In fact it falls in line with a vocal movement among Native Americans. Ward Churchill, a registered Keetoowah Cherokee, and the author of several books on Indian issues, has forced tribes in the lower 48 states and Alaska to come to grips over the controversial issue of outright rejecting the federal government in favor of self-governance.

In a recent interview with a Native American publication, Churchill, considered a firebrand by many tribal leaders, said, "The federal government is not a valid power (for Native Americans). It is the illusion of power, but they (Indians) are confused by it."

'Nato, at least in principal, is dedicated to making Indians self-sufficient, to wean them off the federal welfare at all levels. 'Nato will, however, accept government property as repayment for the land it owes Indians. Clayton says he has been encouraged and guided in his efforts by his Indian relatives in Oklahoma. Some of them are members of the Keetoowah band who live apart from the nearly 170,000 strong Cherokee Nation. The Keetoowah don't get federal money because they do not have a land base.

Another branch of his family belongs to the Four Mothers, a tribe made up of Cherokees, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek Indians, who are fiercely independent, he says, and accept no federal money.

"My people--the Keetoowah and the Four Mothers--are hurting. They want to make changes but they don't know how. So they need us," says Clayton. "The BIA isn't allowing any new tribes, so we got creative in order to take advantage of the special privileges and rights allowed for Indians."

Clayton believes he has found a legal loophole to get the tribe a degree of legitimacy to do its business. That loophole, he explains, is a state charter. He is basing this on his own interpretation, not of the federal code, but the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA), which provided for the formalization of tribal governments and the formation of business corporations, and the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1988 (ISDA), enacted to stimulate Indian business enterprises.

In the law, as Clayton interprets it, the IRA refers to Indians as anyone living on a reservation in 1934 and their descendants. In the ISDA, an Indian tribe is defined as any tribe, group, community of Indians recognized as eligible for the services provided to Indians by the Secretary of the Interior because of their status as Indians. "Where did that status come from? From being Indians in the beginning," says Clayton. "It doesn't say their status as BIA Indians."

Clayton insists he did not pull this bit of sophistry and circular reasoning "out my hat," but arrived at it through careful study and with the assistance of Indian law scholars. He says he ran his theories by renown Indian law expert Kirke Kickingbird from Oklahoma City. "He [Kickingbird] said, 'Geez, Henry, OK,'" Clayton recalls.

Director of the Native American Legal Resource Center at the Oklahoma City School of Law, Kickingbird remembers the conversation with Clayton, but regrets giving him the impression he thought 'Nato was a valid tribe. "I didn't think it would work. But I didn't tell him that because I thought I misunderstood him."

When Kickingbird was assured by a reporter that he heard Clayton correctly, he says he amended his earlier comment. "As a general proposition, unless you are recognized by the federal government, you are not recognized to have powers of a government," says Kickingbird. "In this case [the 'Nato tribe], a number of people have formed a non-profit. There doesn't seem to be much basis to support the contention of a government. It may be possible for them to get a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services that recognizes they work with Indians, but not as a recognized government.

"I would urge them to be cautious about exercising any government powers, " he adds.

Will Chavez, spokesman for the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, says in the last few years, ever since Dances with Wolves made it chic to be an Indian, counterfeit Indians have been crawling out of the woodwork.

"It seems to be a fad the last three or four years of people wanting to be Indian," says Chavez. "It hampers the real tribes and their work."

John Eagle Bull agrees. An Oglala Sioux who serves as president of the board of trustees of the Dallas Inter-Tribal Center, a federally-funded health and social service agency, Bull says, "This is nonsense. There are so many groups like this ['Nato]. Being Indian is very in. People like this give Indians a bad name. It doesn't only make Indians look ridiculous, it could hurt authentic groups."

The Dallas Inter-Tribal Center, for instance, is also attempting to get land and buildings at Carswell Air Force Base. Bull explains that because of the history of federal abuse of Indian tribes and because they are one of the poorest groups in the United States, people usually want to help. "But when groups like this come along," he says, referring to 'Nato, "it muddies the waters. It makes it hard on legitimate groups."

"I don't know Clayton's motivation," Eagle Bull says. "But there are so many people out there who are lost, who want something to belong to. There are people looking to establish connections with their heritage. But a group like this, instead of providing information, they provide validation."

A characteristic of phony groups, Eagle Bull says, is that they attack Indian tribal membership, a touchy subject to Indians. "They bring up the point that it wasn't needed 100 years ago. That has an appeal because there are a lot of people out there with enrollment problems."

To further muddy the waters, the ersatz Indians, which is how he views Clayton and 'Nato, will denounce the established tribal leaders, Eagle Bull says. "They'll dismiss me as a BIA Indian, a sell out--which is the farthest thing from the truth. He'll use not being under government control as a selling point. I think this guy is using a lot of smoke and mirrors. Guys like this, they're main motivation is money, or some power trip."

Clayton, indeed, characterizes his critics as having been co-opted by the BIA. "They don't know what their rights are," he says. "These other groups have not been successful. They don't have the expertise to do economic development. They're raised BIA Indians and that's all they know. Urban Indians are more successful than counterparts on reservations, but they don't bring it back home."

Clayton denies he is motivated by self-aggrandizement. "Who would want to set up their own government? It takes time, energy, and money. I have a weak body. I put myself under a lot of stress and strain. For what? For power? There's no power. My judgeship is not about power. It's about fairness. If I'm doing something phony, felonious, to cheat people, let the law come down on me. If not, leave me alone or support me."

It wasn't until Henry and Gil Clayton were in grade school in Oak Cliff that they learned they had an Indian heritage. Their father was both ashamed and pained by the Native American's collective history and wanted his children to grow up without stigma, Henry Clayton says.

"But we both knew we were somehow different," he says. "I was a serious, silent child. I always felt very comfortable with nature. I had no fear of animals."

The boys' aunt told them about the Cherokee leaders they were related to, Clayton says, including Chief Bill Keeler, who chartered the Cherokee Nation and was appointed by the U.S. government to lead it in the 1950s and 1960s. Clayton says Keeler once visited his aunt and offered to take young Henry with him to Oklahoma, to learn about his heritage. But his father refused.

After he enlisted in the Navy, Clayton says that his innate Indian skills led to his being selected for "a special forces team" that was involved when the intelligence ship U.S.S. Pueblo was seized by the North Koreans in January 1968. "I was pulled out from time to time to work on covert activities that I can't discuss," he says.

Clayton married and had three daughters, whom he moved around the country as he went from job to job. Even after he divorced and remarried, he felt adrift, he says. It wasn't until he started tracing his Indian roots that he felt he had a purpose. The feeling was further strengthened when he realized that his people, he says, were in crisis.

"Their culture is being diluted, they're in economic crisis. They are facing extinction," he says. "It will take coming together as a band of people. It has taken us 100 years to get the tools to make changes. The route I've chosen is to form an Indian government, because it gives us the greatest leverage--to work with the government, to work with other tribes, to work with other city and state governments. We couldn't do it otherwise."

Clayton says he gets calls all the time from people wanting to join the tribe, people like himself whose parents hid their heritage from them. "They are craving something, the need to belong, and we give them that," he says.

"Being Indian is something special; it's who we are," says Gil Clayton.
To Frances Rainwater Vereen, an urban Indian whose grandfather grew up on a Cherokee reservation, 'Nato has been a godsend. She met Henry Clayton at a going-away party for lawyer Valerie Lane, when she quit the North Texas Legal Services' Indian Law Project in protest over budget cuts.

"When he first mentioned some of his ideas, I thought he was crazy," says Vereen, who grew up in West Virginia and was program coordinator for the United Southeastern Tribes. "Then I thought, you can't always do things traditionally and succeed."

"I value my heritage and I value Native American laws, but there is no one here to serve my needs. I'm not a poverty Indian and the other organizations serve low income. I think Judge Clayton can help bridge the gap between North American law and English law. I think 'Nato can help Indian businesses prosper here and internationally. I think 'Nato is the most wonderful thing to happen to Texas in 15 years."

It wasn't until the federal government starting putting Indians on trust lands and providing them services and the right to self govern, that tribes had a need for membership rolls. The enrollments accomplished two things for the government: they controlled fraud and limited the number of people who were entitled to Indian land and other benefits.

It is up to each tribe to determine the requirements for enrollment. Some require a blood quantum, that you be at least one-half or one-quarter Indian and receive a BIA certificate of degree of Indian blood, which entitles you to certain services, such as free health care. Other tribes, such as the Cherokees, require that you be a direct descendant of Indians who were registered with something called the Dawes Rolls, a tribal registry that was conceived in 1889 when Oklahoma, then Indian territory, was granted statehood. The Dawes Rolls were controversial and inaccurate. Some Indians refused to participate, resentful that they had to register like foreigners in their own land. Others were simply distrustful of anything to do with the white man's government. And some who got on the rolls were not Indians at all, but whites who bribed their way on to get land allotments.

"Indians are the only ethnic group in this country that have to have a card to prove who they are, and they resent that," says Valerie Lane, former head of the Indian Law Project, which was part of North Texas Legal Services. "It's like a pedigreed dog having papers. Why should a group be required to carry a card? It's degrading. There are a lot of definitions of what is an Indian. Unfortunately, the government has created a lot of them. I'm not sure the government process of determining who is an Indian and what constitutes a tribe has been beneficial to our community."

Clayton claims his Oklahoma Indian family members refused to be enrolled. "They did not want to be carded. They did not want dog tags. That is not the Indian way."

Lane and other local Native American leaders say that most urban Indians, at least, believe having a certificate of degree of Indian blood is less essential in determining one's authenticity as an Indian than one's involvement in the community. "Being an Indian comes from your heart; it's not something that comes with a library card," says Hilton Queton, director of the American Indian Center in Euless, a 25-year-old non-profit organization that promotes educational, cultural and social development of American Indians.

But even on the test of community involvement, the Clayton brothers and the other two chiefs fall short. As Queton tells it, Henry Clayton popped up in the local Indian community about two years ago. He approached AIC in Euless with a desire to help it raise money. "But he wanted us to provide him an office and a telephone and furnish him business cards signifying he was part of the organization."

Queton refused. He didn't see or hear from Clayton again until this past year, when he made a presentation to the AIC board, trying to get them interested in supporting an Indian job training program connected with the Texas Institute of Human Development. "We are interested but we have our work cut out for us building our own programs," says Queton.

Clayton and McGehee showed up a few weeks ago at a meeting of Indians who want to develop a Native American Chamber of Commerce in Dallas. Some people at the meeting thought that when McGehee spoke he showed a stunning lack of knowledge of Indian history and issues. "He made no sense at all," says Eagle Bull.

Others had a more charitable view. Doyle Logan, co- owner of the Sequoyah Bookstore, which specializes in Native American first editions, thought Clayton made some good points about making sure the Chamber didn't exclude any heritages and that it worked to improve Indian businesses. He was also taken with what he believed was 'Nato's noble, if quixotic, mission. "They want all Indian groups to band together for the common good, to give Indians a bigger voice," says Logan, whose wife is half Cherokee. "The last time Indians did that they defeated Custer."

But most Indian leaders hadn't even heard of 'Nato until the Observer contacted them for comment. "They are not involved in the Indian community at all," Queton says. "And this is the first I've heard of him being a judge. He's taken some courses and now he's a judge. Well, son of a gun--I'm baffled. I really am. What benefits he is trying to establish may be self-serving."

But Clayton explains 'Nato's low profile as reflecting their cultural heritage. "We've been aggressive, but not obtrusive. It is not the Indian way to beat your drum."

Ironically, the most bitter critic of 'Nato and of Henry Clayton shares his Indian blood. His youngest daughter Rebeka Clayton Lochhead believes he is creating the tribe for selfish ends. "My father is a manipulator and a con man," says Rebeka."This is just a way to make himself feel important."

Lochhead, who looks older than her 21 years, says she used to respect and admire her father, but now refuses to have anything to do with him, despite needing family support for her three children--a six-month-old and 18-month-old twins, one of whom was recently operated on for a clubfoot. Lochhead lives in a small apartment in Grand Prairie where she has no phone, no car, no money, and no friends.

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."

But Robert entered a drug rehabilitation program at the Salvation Army, which he successfully completed. Since June, he has been working regularly for a construction company and for the first time, consistently supporting the children. Though she had misgivings, Rebeka and Robert married.

Still, Clayton was unsatisfied. "We asked Rebeka and Robert to come to tribal court," Clayton says. "We wanted to be updated on how they were doing. You don't get off drugs in 90 days. It takes two years to recover fully. We wanted to know if we could help them, do they have any needs, how were the children doing. This is not a court about winning or losing, but about fairness."

Clayton filed a motion with the Utah court asking Judge Low to transfer his daughter's still-pending custody case to the "First Federal District Court" of the 'Nato Nation, where, presumably, he would be the magistrate. Rebeka sought help from the Dallas Bar Association pro bono project to block the transfer.

Earlier this month, Judge Low finally rendered a decision that managed to anger both sides.

"This Court earlier acknowledged to Henry Clayton, First Federal District Judge of the 'Nato Indian Nation, that it had no objection to the transfer of jurisdiction," Judge Low began [giving Clayton some credibility or at least addressing him as judge]. But because Rebeka and Robert were now married and living in Texas, Low found that most of the issues relative to transfer of jurisdiction were moot.

Judge Low refused to make a finding as to the legal status or rights of the 'Nato Indian tribe. "If the 'Nato Indian Nation desires to proceed in Texas with respect to the care and custody of the children, it is free to do so," Judge Low wrote.

Ellis Burt, one of the attorneys advising Rebeka on her case, called the decision a shame. "The judge said he was not going to change jurisdictions, but if [Clayton] wanted it, take it," Burt says. "It was a total abdication of responsibility. It's going to be a mess. You haven't heard the end of this yet."

Henry Clayton was equally upset with Judge Low's ruling. "The judge took the easy way out. He turned jurisdiction back to Texas. He should have given us jurisdiction. He does not understand Indian law."

Clayton is mulling his options, which include, he says, taking the matter to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. "The 'Nato Indian Nation is not finished yet," he says.

As the conflict with her father and his court plays out, Rebeka finds herself thinking more about her Native American roots. The only picture decorating the walls of her small apartment is a small, black-and-white print of an Indian in full headdress. She plans to study more of her heritage, so she can teach her children. She would even accept help from her father and 'Nato, she says, if she trusted his motivations more.

"If he really wants to help me and help the Indians," she says, "why doesn't he do it legally?

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...