On Monday afternoon, social services arrived at the southern California home of Rusty and Summer Page. Neighbors stood outside, singing hymns and holding signs, as the couple’s 6-year-old foster child was taken from their home amid tears and cries of “I love you.”
The girl’s name is Lexi, and she is one-sixty-fourth Choctaw Indian. Although Rusty and Summer are the only parents she’s ever known, a federal law drafted to protect Native American children has governed her removal. The girl was taken from her foster parents so that she can live with relatives in Utah, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.
The Choctaw Nation has said the girl is being placed with relatives of her biological father for her best interest. The Pages call the law that has taken the girl from them as “arbitrary” and that it gives “absolute power to tribal leaders who judicially abduct children at-will,” Fox News added.
And the heartbroken parents plan to fight the girl’s removal from what they say is the only home she’s ever known.
— 20/20 (@ABC2020) March 22, 2016
The girl’s biological parents were long ago deemed unfit. She was taken from her birth mother, who had substance abuse problems and had lost custody of six other children, when she was only 17-months-old. Her birth father has an extensive criminal history and lost custody of one other child himself.
At 2-years-old, Lexi was placed with foster parents the Pages and reportedly bonded and thrived. They’ve been trying to adopt the girl for two years, but the tribe and Department of Children and Family Services continued to try to reunite her with extended family in Utah. After that failed, the father, department, and the tribe agreed to place her with his relatives; they aren’t native.
Lexi’s foster parents have since appealed the court order placing the girl in Utah.
On Monday afternoon, the girl was taken from her foster parents. Rusty carried her to a car as Summer “Lexi, I love you!” and another girl screamed “No!” The couple’s other children could be heard crying inside the house. Later, Rusty emerged to plead for his foster daughter’s return. He said Lexi had begged not to be taken away.
“Lexi doesn’t know another home. She finally knows what ‘mom and dad’ means and they want to take that away from her, and we can’t stand idly by while that happens.”
Leslie Heimov, an attorney representing Lexi, said that she knows her Utah relatives well and has two sisters there. She’s visited them regularly in the past three years, they visit California once a month, and Skype once a week.
“She has a loving relationship with them. They are not strangers in any way, shape or form,” she said. “The law defines family based on marriage, affinity or blood. This has become a legal issue but it’s also a family reunification issue and a sibling issue. The law is very clear that siblings should be kept together whenever they can be and they should be placed together even if they were not initially together.”
Despite her foster parents’ protestations, the girl’s biological father is a member of the Choctaw tribe and she is 1.5 percent Indian. Therefore, she is considered an Indian child and is protected under the Indian Child Welfare Law. They reportedly were well aware of her heritage and the protections it afforded.
Summer and Rusty Page speaking out about the loss of their daughter pic.twitter.com/pFNkU0i4Vz
— Chris McCrory (@nunciative_news) March 22, 2016
The law isn’t arbitrary. According to the Christian Science Monitor, it was enacted in 1978 to ensure Native children can grow up with their own families, or another Native family, to “foster their sense of identity and their understanding of their culture.”
That is important, because, for 100 years, Native kids were taken from their tribes and forced into white schools determined to “assimilate” them into white culture. Today, advocates say such practices continue in the foster care system, and Native children are routinely placed with non-Native families. Broken traditions and communities have caused devastating repercussions for Natives into the 21st century, including rampant poverty.
Despite the dramatic sight of a young girl taken from the only parents she’s ever known is heart-breaking, the Choctaw Nation insists that the girl’s best interests are being considered.
“The Choctaw Nation desires the best for this Choctaw child. The tribe’s values of faith, family and culture are what makes our tribal identity so important to us. Therefore we will continue to work to maintain these values and work toward the long-term best interest of this child.”
[Image via chevu/Shutterstock]