Dr. Phil Strikes (Out) Again

Thursday October 25, 2012

By Dina Gilio-Whitaker

Dr. Phil's longevity on daytime television attests to his enduring popularity. Go figure. While I imagine he is capable of offering valuable insights and advice, too often he comes off as the Jerry Springer of psychology. He did it recently in a highly sensationalized segment on Baby Veronica, the Native American child who was returned to her birth family after an illegal adoption to a white family in South Carolina. Baby Veronica's white mother placed her baby with an adoptive family without disclosing the fact that the child has a Native American father, circumventing the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law that mandates such disclosure in cases of children with Native American parentage. The law essentially gives the tribe priority in the adoption decisions. The child's return was upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

In the show Dr. Phil clearly sides with the adoptive parents who are understandably distraught about the loss of their adopted child, now a toddler. The segment showcases Troy Dunn, known for his TV show called "The Locator." The show is based on his work in reuniting lost loved ones, and is obviously influenced by his family history with adoption (he has an adopted Native American brother). But it also biases him to the emotional pleas of the adoptive couple, despite his apparent lack of a full understanding about the ICWA and its history (which you can read about here).

The highly emotional debate raises all the usual issues about Native American identity and blood quantum. But it also raises other issues that non-Indians have a hard time grappling with, namely the concept of group rights versus individual rights because the law favors the rights of the tribe over the individual; i.e. the mother. What Dr. Phil failed to do was discuss the historical context of the law which was passed in order to right two centuries of wrongs where Indian children were removed from their homes at staggering rates, contributing immeasurably to the breakdown of American Indian families and societies. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a debate about the ICWA will be exposed to public scrutiny and the usual charges of racism and ignoring the needs of the child. However, the debate doesn't change the absolute need for the law.


©2024 eLuminary LLC. All rights reserved.