Donna Ennis

Dr. Phil on Baby Veronica: He Just Doesn’t Get It

Dr. Phil either gets it or he doesn’t. After viewing a recent episode of his show that featured the perspective of adoptive parents in the "battle over Baby Veronica," it is clear to me that he doesn’t get it. Critics in the mental health field say his approach can verge on emotional violence and this appeared to be the case in this episode. As Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, defends the purpose of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), she is repeatedly interrupted and badgered by Troy Dunn, host of the TV show The Locator. It is Troy Dunn who pitched the story to Dr. Phil in the first place. There is a significant history of people in this country that exploit Native American culture to get media exposure for personal gain. Troy Dunn is a white man but has a Native American brother who was adopted into his family. I guess this is his free pass to speak about things that he has no first-hand knowledge of. He shouts at Nimmo about Baby Veronica’s lack of blood quantum as though that defines who is Indian. Then he shares his ignorance of ICWA by saying any child who has “one drop” of Indian blood could be taken away from adoptive parents. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruling sided with Veronica’s father and the Cherokee Tribe by returning Veronica to her family where she will grow up surrounded by her people and her culture and all of the inherent rights and pride that go with this privilege. Critics of the decision to return Veronica to her family have cited an injustice to the adoptive parents. The Federal ICWA was enacted to right the injustices that have been done to Native families for over 200 years. The days of a “civilize the savages” mentality are gone and with it went the right to parent children cross-culturally. In the 80’s and 90’s when I was an ICWA worker many counties placed children in foster care and adoptive homes and literally hid them out from the Tribes and if a long enough period of time went by the courts would use this as a rationale to continue to support the cross cultural placement of the children. Returning the children to the Tribe would be an “injustice” they would say and cite attachment theory. Today the most destructive aspect of Native families is the continued practice of cross cultural placements. Finally, Dr Phil issues his opinion: “To tear this child away from y’all (Oklahoma accent intended) in an abrupt fashion like that, there’s no question that is was traumatic for her,” he told the Capobiancos. “There will be real issues for this child going forward. I will tell you, however, that research suggests long term that children can recover from this; children are resilient. She can have a happy and adjusted life in a new environment if in fact that environment is loving, nurturing and productive for her.” The Copobiancos, whose request for a rehearing in the custody case of Baby Veronica in South Carolina Supreme Court was denied on August 23, appealed on October 1st for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. They are still waiting a response. Donna Ennis is currently the chair of the Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council, as well as the eastern regional director and cultural director for North Homes Children and Family Services, a professional foster care agency.


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Dr. Phil on Baby Veronica: He Just Doesn't Get It