The Parent Trap

Cherokees step in to break up an adoptive family over race

"Proving to the contrary of a congressional mandate puts a huge burden on us," says Youngblood, who plans to argue that, ICWA aside, the Catos are better for Jacob than a foster family. If he's taken away, says Youngblood, he'll have future psychological issues with attachment. Tracy Cato has been Jacob's caretaker practically since day one. "All of a sudden the person taking care of him and loving him just--poof!--disappears. It could cause serious damage to the child."

Because adoption proceedings are officially confidential in Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation couldn't say whether they had a family ready to take Jacob, only that they had "a large number of placement resources." The Catos say that Jacob's birth mother told them she didn't want the baby to be raised in an Indian home. She also refused to disclose the identity of the baby's father, saying only that he was a full-blooded Choctaw. Choctaw officials relinquished any right to the child because there was no proof of parentage, though by law the Catos had to run an ad in Oklahoma newspapers seeking the baby's father. No one responded.

The case will be heard in a U.S. court, not a tribal court, which helps the Catos' chances. If Jacob's adoption does not go through, says Tracy Cato, they won't try for another. They already have an adopted 6-year-old daughter, Madison, who named Jacob. Looking at his son's big, brown eyes and full head of stick-straight black hair, Kelley shrugs, exasperated. He reiterates his promise to raise Jacob as a Cherokee.

Jacob Cato
Jacob Cato

"They wouldn't lose a child," he says. "They'd be gaining a whole family."

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