Lost Tribe

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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.

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Ann Zimmerman