18 April 2013


I'm a member of a book-reading club that meets once a month to discuss a novel we've all read.  This month's selection is Barbara Kingsolver's Pigs In Heaven, the story of an abandoned young Native American girl who was adopted by a single white woman, and her tribe's attempt to nullify the adoption and return the girl to tribal care.

The legal and family issues are complex, but the story is excellent.  Kingsolver's prose is thoroughly leavened with a poet's sensibilities, and her characters are rich with humor and human flaws.  I find myself savoring each sentence, lingering over phrases.  And all the while the author is propelling the reader along the story's arc with finesse.

Coincidentally, as reported on last night's PBS Newshour and in today's NYTimes, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case involving .... you guessed it, the adoption of a Native American girl (image above) by a white family, being contested by the child's father (who had never met his daughter).  The case hinges on South Carolina adoption law, U.S. law (specifically the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (which was enacted to protect Native tribes and families from abusive adoption practices), and a complex effort to assess the best interests of the child.

Here's an additional twist ~ the father is 3/128ths Cherokee, and the daughter is 3/256ths Cherokee, which raises a question familiar to members of both the Native American and the black communities ~ how small does one's genetic inheritance have to be, before it is irrelevant?  Many people of mixed ancestry self-identify with their minority blood.  Some do not.

The Court, after much soul-searching, decided in favor of the father.  I'm conflicted about that decision.  The adoptive parents have loved and cared for the little girl since birth (the birth mother was Hispanic, not Indian).  On the other hand, the father was willing to cede parental rights to the birth mother, but not to adoptive parents.  It is a thorny issue, one with implications for (as the family's attorney pointed out) "women's rights, racial equality, and countless adoptions" ~ including all the couples and single parents who adopt children from other countries.

My heart goes out most to the little girl.  How will she be scarred by this experience, and how will she heal?  Will her father provide her with a safe and much-loved childhood?  I hope so.  To get a flavor for the legal and emotional journey, I hope you'll read Kingsolver's book.  You won't regret it.

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