The comments made by Dr. Phil and guests on his show were unforgiveable, and, as such, I am asking you, Dr. Phil, and your producers, to issue an apology to Chrissi Ross Nimmo, Asst. General to the Cherokee Nation, and to Judge Les Marston, Esq., and to Mr. Johnstons' two adopted sons. The Supreme Court of South Carolina upheld the previous decision of a court to return an infant girl back to the custody of her birth father. This was the right decision, and yet you chose to use your show as a soapbox from which to spread the race card. This "ole boy" messed up, and it's time to admit it!
When "Baby Veronica's'" mother sent her daughter out into the world she landed in the arms of Matthew and Melanie, aka the "Adoptive Couple", and many lives were altered. Six months later, however, the father, who had served with Operation Iraqi Freedom, learned of the adoption for the first time, and petitioned the courts for custody. Family courts examined the case and ruled on his behalf, granting him custody. But the adoptive couple petitioned the decision and sought litigation in the courts.
However, on August 24, 2012, the South Carolina Supreme Court made a final ruling and upheld the previous Court's decision, and so baby Veronica remained with her father. More importantly, the Court also ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) has the ability to "supersede" state adoption laws, according to a press room article on the Cherokee Nation website. [www.cherokee.org] The ruling means that it will be more difficult for adoption agencies to place Native American children with non-Native families, however, it will also mean more protection for children in these communities.
Cases like "Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, Birth Father and Cherokee Nation" have grown increasingly more prominent in the media due to the presence of agencies which can intervene to protect the rights of Native American children. The initiation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978 is an important piece of legislation that helps protect Native American children, who, according to statistics by the United States Department of Health & Human Services website [http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/courts/icwa.cfm], "…were being removed from their homes and communities at a much higher rate than non-Native children."
I was shocked by the guests' behaviour. I wondered why they had bothered airing what was clearly an old topic, and then I realized that they were in fact reacting to the Court's decision, and, in particular, to the ICWA ruling, which seemed to have stepped on many toes, including Dr. Phil's 6'4" toes.
In fact in less than two months after the Court ruling, the studio had decided to go with the story, fueling the on-air debate by further sensationalizing it and inviting the "Adoptive Couple" and Mr. Johnston, a parent who successfully adopted two Native American boys. Another guest, sure to draw attention, was Troy Dunn, a frequent guest of the Dr. Phil Show, and founder of the TV show "The Locator", where lost-loved ones are ceremoniously reunited with family members lost in luggage, or during cross-country adoptions, decades earlier. Dunn, like all the other guests, was a fierce opponent of the Supreme Court decision, and he was not scared about sharing his views on the matter.
Like a professional collegiate football team, the two sides faced-off on the issue, criticizing, attacking—always emotionally, harshly and unjustly—the decisions of both the US District Court and the tribal courts.
Let me make one thing clear: the winning team here is Victoria, who is still living with her father, and not the Dunn-Matt & Melanie-Dr. Phil-Johnston team, who lost when the Court made its final ruling. So the airing of this show was really a bitching session, a chance for the losing team to chomp away at a final Revenge Roast.
The "Adoptive Parents", Matthew and Melanie, were so angry they refused to sit on-stage in the presence of (Chrissi Ross Nimmo), Assistant Attorney General to the Cherokee Nation, and other members of the Native advocacy team. A good host would certainly have encouraged his guests to be respectful of one another by requiring their presence, but the Adoptive Parents remained a dark silhouette. The end game here is to continue to demonize Chrissa Ross Nimmo and her partners at the Cherokee Nation.
As long as members of the Native community are seen as monsters who go around ripping and "tearing" children out of the arms of their parents, Dr. Phil and his team consider themselves in a better position.
Early on in the game, Mr. Johnston led the attack by claiming that his adopted sons were only 6.2 percent "Indian". Other guests on that team continued to use divisive and sensational language; the "Adoptive Parents" made the inflammatory statement that “The Child Welfare Act is destroying families,” [sic] and "tearing children" from the arms of their parents.
More than angry, yes, they were seething; after all, they lost their battle, a battle in which adoption and other agencies were able to thwart the effectiveness of child protection services on reserves throughout the US to decide who and where their children could be FedExed. And in their attempt to confuse readers, they lied about tribal organizations, accusing them and the Cherokee Nation of being "racist" and putting the Nation before the rights of children.
Their statements were completely inaccurate: the truth is that the Indian Child Welfare Act seeks to protect the rights of Native American children by allowing for the adoption priority "to be given in the order of the child's extended family, the child's tribe members, and then to Indian families in general."[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Child_Welfare_Act#Foster_Care_Placement_and_Adoption]
That the ICWA is a federal program seems to anger many of those opposed to the Court's decision, simply because they can no longer accuse the Native American community of racism.
In the following scene, Dr. Phil assures Ms. (Nimmo) that the decision by the "Adoptive Parents'" to sit off-stage should not be taken "personally". Ba'al could not have said it with more cunning, but Dr. Phil can.
Of course, every one knows it IS personal. And Dr. Phil's denial of the fact is disingenuous; in fact, the facts are both calculating and passive-aggressive. And as accusations by Dunn, Johnston, and the "Adoptive Parents" that the Cherokee Nation and its representatives are racist continued, it become very clear just who was biased.
Johnston is agitated, nearly manic, and as though he were in front of the class with a "show-and-tell" project, he frantically waves his arms in the air. He draws the audience in—like a magician. In one hand he holds a photo of his two boys, casually dressed, but what they are wearing is not important; the important thing is that they are not wearing the ceremonial outfit the boy in the yellowed photo is wearing. And here, Johnston is about ready to make his point.
This boy looks nothing like this boy! he yells, waving the photos back and forth in the air, as though it was bona fide genetic material. But to assure us that he can prove this, he tells the audience that his sons only have "6.2" percent "Indian" [sic] blood in them. It''s quite simple, to him: his sons are dressed differently, and as such they "cannot be 'Indian'".
And then comes the part that I found so upsetting, and the reason I wrote this petition letter.
While reflecting about their lives on the reserve, the boys recall having had to urinate in "paint buckets" because there was no toilet. And in what can be best described as a derisive, belittling tone, Dr. Phil turns to the boys and asks: "Do you recall visiting the..reservation...and looking around...and was that of interest to you?" The boy's look embarrassed, or shy, or proud; I can't quite tell. "Not at all." And, as though on cue, or prompted by cards that read "Applaud!", the audience gives the boys a round of applause. I, however, am feeling sick to my stomach.
If you watch the show, it's easy to see how little if any respect Johnston has for Native American culture, that is evident. Not only do his boys hate anything and everything about their own culture, they almost certainly hate themselves. It takes some grooming to remember only one childhood memory on the reserve.
Though Johnston is proud his boys have "some German" and "some Hispanic" ancestry, he is totally unaware that he constantly demonizes the 6.2 % Native American blood that runs, literally, away from their veins.
This scene shows us a glimpse of Dr. Phil's "Dark Passenger". But Dr. Phil, unlike his guests, who were constantly taking jabs at the Native community, much like the kid would a "baldie" in an episode of "The Walking Dead" did, he can't take jabs while the camera is directly on him. So instead, he led an indirect attack, not exactly triangulating, but something similar, going for Judge Les Marston, Esq. and then Chrissi Ross Nimmo, and finally going straight for the two boys.
The boys will remember, courtesy of "Dad", that being Native American means not having a toilet. There is some hope, however, for this memory is not their memory, it is the memory of their adopted father; a father who lives in a world where being of Native American descent is reduced to whether or not you own a feathered head dress.
Undoubtedly, it is because of men like Johnston and Dr. Phil that we have federally funded programs like the Indian Child Welfare Act.
I am asking you to send an email to Dr. Phil and ask him to apologize to Chrissi Ross Nimmo and to her Native American colleagues who appeared on the show.
I also want Dr. Phil to make an apology to Mr. Johnstons' two sons, who unfortunately, have little reason to understand what happened to them, and how they were used.
Mail letters to: The Dr. Phil Show, PO Box 1902, 5482 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90036