Dispatch from the Lost Indian Baby Affairs Desk

Many of our readers were as surprised as I was to find out about the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that dictates unwanted or orphaned Native American babies be placed in other Native American families, foster homes or orphanages before they're placed with a non-Indian family.

I became aware of ICWA through my article a couple of weeks ago about Cherokee baby Jacob (I have always, always wanted to be the author of a "Baby X" story) and his adoptive parents, Kelley and Tracy Cato, from Corinth. They've had Jacob practically since the day he was born last January--took him home from the hospital, even--but the Cherokee Nation wanted Jacob back so they could place him in an Indian home. The way they see it, Indian culture won't survive unless Indian babies grow up in a culturally Indian household--or Indian foster home, even if there's a non-Indian family ready to permanently adopt.

The Catos went to a hearing on June 28 that went "as well as can be expected," according to Kelley. He and his wife are still in custody of Jacob, though their hold may be tenuous. Kelley writes in an update e-mail: "The Cherokee Nation protested the Temporary Custody Order and tried to have Jacob removed from our home that day. The judge did not grant that," meaning they'll probably have Jacob for a couple more months. Not so good if you consider Jacob's stay in a family he may never know will be prolonged, not so bad if you consider the Catos will have more time to form their arguments for keeping Jacob. The judge is expected to make a final decision in September. --Andrea Grimes

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky