2. Behind The Curtain | Crooked Media
August 23, 2021
This Land
2. Behind The Curtain

In This Episode

The Brackeens’ case would have been a normal adoption dispute, but then one of the most powerful corporate law firms in the United States took it on and helped the couple launch a federal lawsuit. 


Show Notes







Rebecca Nagle: Just to note before we get started, the stories we’re sharing this season touch on different kinds of trauma. Please take care of yourself while you listen.


Rebecca Nagle: In this sprawling lawsuit that pits foster families against Native families and tribes against states, there is actually one point that everyone agrees on: that the history of Native families being separated is tragic. It’s a history that people who are still alive today survived. People like Sandy White Hawk.


Sandy White Hawk [speaking in Lakota] Greetings relatives. My name is Sandy White Hawk. My Lakota name is Stands in the Center Woman and I come from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.


Rebecca Nagle: Growing up on the Rosebud reservation in the 1950s, kids knew to hide when strange cars came up the driveway.


Sandy White Hawk I’ve heard people say, yeah, we had a drill in our house that if a car drove up the driveway, we knew that it would be somebody from the government or social worker or something.


Rebecca Nagle: But one day, Sandy wasn’t fast enough.


Sandy White Hawk I remember one of my uncles saying that he remembers the day that the social worker came and got me, drove into the driveway and I was toddling around and they were all sitting around the house, as far as I know—that’s how it was told to me. And she just simply got out of the car, scooped me up and put me in the car.


Rebecca Nagle: Her relatives watched the whole thing.


Sandy White Hawk Could you imagine what that would have been like? Could you imagine that you knew not to move and not to do anything and not grab at me and fight for me, because they would have been put in jail. And I would have still been taken.


Rebecca Nagle: The first thing Sandy remembers about her white adoptive family was their truck.


Sandy White Hawk And I remember that it was a red truck and I remember being lifted. I have this sensation of being lifted and put between these two people and everything was so different. I just remember smell and what my white adoptive mom’s arm looked like, what my dad’s, adoptive dads, overalls looked, like the dashboard. I have this, like it’s incredibly clear picture. But right after that, I am in the back of the truck looking in the front of the truck, watching this little brown girl. So at 18 months old, I disassociated, to protect myself because I was in—I was terrified because these weren’t my, anybody I knew.


Rebecca Nagle: That red truck took Sandy away from her family and her tribe to a small rural white community. Being adopted by a white family was supposed to give Sandy the chance at a better life, but it didn’t. Sandy’s adoptive mom was abusive.


Sandy White Hawk When I look back, she was suffering greatly. However, the abuse that I went through then because of hers was pretty, was really hard. The sexual violation occurred, the beatings occurred, the berating, the spiritual abuse, telling me from the time I could remember that I was going to go to hell—and mostly because I was India.


Rebecca Nagle: Sandy has this vivid memory from when she was about 11 or 12, her mom would have these rages.


Sandy White Hawk I just remember I scurried up the stairs to get away from her and she was screaming and screaming. And then there’s this little landing, I could look down at her. And I seen her crying really hard and still saying mean things. And she goes: I should have just left you on the reservation, you’re so ungrateful, nothing I do is good enough for you, you’re just completely ungrateful. And I remember thinking, what’s a reservation? I should have left you on the reservation—what does that mean?


Rebecca Nagle: Around the same time that Sandy was growing up in a white home, a national advocacy group got word of a problem. Tribal leaders reported their children were missing. The group, the Association on American Indian Affairs, conducted a huge national survey. What they found was shocking. 25 to 35% of all Native children were gone, removed from their families and their tribes. Here’s Bert Hirsch, who led the survey:


Bert Hirsch: And the idea was literally to separate, these people, the parents and their children from their tribal communities permanently. And ultimately, the hope was the tribes themselves would disappear.


Rebecca Nagle: Last episode I told you about boarding schools. They were followed by another federal program called the Indian Adoption Project. The government paid the Child Welfare League of America to take Native children and put them up for adoption by white families. Bert and his team found white families who were using those kids for farm labor. The Indian adoption project fits into this era of federal policy when the government was literally trying to get rid of tribes and a tribe without children doesn’t have a future. This type of systemic racism is easy to spot because it comes with intent. But there was another reason so many Native kids were missing: bias in the system.


Bert Hirsch: Rarely were there allegations of child abuse, but neglect was rampant, and it was premised largely on white supremacist thoughts that Indian parents, virtually by definition, were unfit to raise children. That Indian reservations, virtually by definition, were unfit environments for children to be raised in.


Rebecca Nagle: It took another 10 years of legal work, organizing and advocacy, but in 1978, Congress finally voted on legislation to address the problem. Burt was there in the Senate chambers.


Bert Hirsch: And it was way late at night, if I remember correctly. I was in the Senate gallery. It was like midnight or after midnight already at that point, because they were trying to get all this other legislation passed first.


Rebecca Nagle: He was worried it wouldn’t get through.


Bert Hirsch: But sure enough, at the very end, Byrd called it up and it passed on unanimous consent.


Rebecca Nagle: And on November 8th, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Indian Child Welfare Act into law. ICWA was created the way we normally think about changing federal laws, through legislation. It took 10 years of research, congressional testimony, organizing, and finally a vote. And that vote, in a democracy, is supposed to reflect the will of the people. But there is this other way to change federal laws, one that doesn’t involve Congress. If you have money and resources, you can take your issue to federal court. And that’s what the people trying to get rid of ICWA are doing.


Rebecca Nagle: You’re listening to this land, a podcast about the present day struggle for Native rights. From Crooked Media, I’m your host, Rebecca Nagle, [ᎪᎯᏂ ᏓᏆᏙᎠ. ᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᏰᎵ ᎨᎳ.] citizen of Cherokee Nation. This season, we’re following how a string of custody battles over Native children turned into a federal lawsuit threatening everything from tribal sovereignty to civil rights. The Brackeens and their lawyers say that stories like Sandy White Hawk’s are tragic, but that tragedy is in the past and Native children don’t need ICWA anymore. They say that while the law was well-intended, today it actually harms Native kids. And their evidence for that harm doesn’t come from data or tribes or even child welfare experts. It’s a story. The story of what happened when a white couple wanted to adopt a Native toddler. But we dug into their story and it didn’t add up.


[ad break]


Rebecca Nagle: Matthew McGill looks at ICWA through the lens of his clients, the Brackeens.


[clip of Matthew McGill] I suppose one could dismiss their situation as merely an anecdote, but that is how every case in the Supreme Court is an anecdote of its own. I don’t think the Brackeens ought to be dismissed because they are outnumbered by other, more routine applications of ICWA.


Rebecca Nagle: McGill is a partner at that big corporate law firm we told you about last episode, Gibson Dunn. He declined to speak with us. This is him speaking on a panel hosted by the right-wing organization, the Cato Institute.


[clip of Matthew McGill] They had been the foster parents to a child for about two years and they had petitioned to adopt that child. And although it was unrebutted that it would do great damage to this somewhat troubled 2-year old to remove him from his, the only parents really he had ever known, that nevertheless the family court in Texas ruled that the adoption petition must be denied and that the child in due course would be transferred to these strangers in New Mexico.


Rebecca Nagle: And according to Matthew McGill, that decision to pick a Native family, a Navajo family, over his clients constituted racial discrimination, discrimination against white people, which he says is unconstitutional because laws aren’t supposed to treat people differently based on race.


[clip of Matthew McGill] It obviously discriminates on the basis of race when you deny non-Indian families such as the Brackeens the same opportunity to adopt children as you would give to any family of any of 500+ Indian tribes,


Rebecca Nagle: McGill says the law also discriminates against Native children.


[clip of Matthew McGill] I would say that it is a legitimate goal to prevent the unjustified breakup of Indian families. But what does that have to do with the child the Brackeen is trying to adopt? I mean, this was not a child who was shunted off to to some boarding school for no reason at all.


Rebecca Nagle: The Brackeens and their lawyers say what happened in their case was so wrong, all of ICWA should go away. Since so much is riding on the story of one case, as a reporter, I needed to know if that story was true. And that’s tricky because the details of Antonio’s custody case are confidential. We dug through any documents we could find, talked to dozens of people, and after months of prying and poking around, finally, I got a call from our managing producer, Amy Westervelt.


[Rebecca on the phone] Hey, Amy.


[Amy on the phone] Hey, Rebecca. I have some good news.


Rebecca Nagle: We cracked it open and what we got was a detailed timeline of Antonio’s custody case. Knowing who filed what and when changed everything I thought I knew about that story. It turns out Antonio did have a Native family who loved and cared for him the first year of his life, his grandparents. But because of his mom and dad’s substance abuse, CPS got involved and they decided he needed to go into foster care. After Antonio’s parents’ rights were terminated, Navajo Nation found a Navajo family within a couple months. After that, things moved pretty fast. The Brackeens hired a local family lawyer and filed a bunch of paperwork to try and keep Antonio in their home. In one motion, they tried to kick Navajo Nation out of the case. In it, they spell the word Navajo with an H, not a J, every time it was written. But that motion and others all got thrown out. That’s the family court decision McGill was talking about, and that’s when, according to Jennifer’s blog, they started looking for help with an appeal.


[Rebecca on the phone] Like how long does it take for them to get connected to Gibson and Dunn?


[Amy on the phone] OK, that’s where this just like blew my mind, because it’s August 22nd they get denied. By August 28—


[Rebecca on the phone] What!?


[Amy on the phone] —Rebecca Ricketts of Gibson Dunn is filing motions.


[Rebecca on the phone] What?! That’s like, that’s six days. That’s, that’s bonkers. That is so bonkers.


Rebecca Nagle: Not even a week. Most law firms couldn’t write that kind of appeal in six days. It left me wondering where the Brackeens looking for legal help, or was Gibson Dunn looking for plaintiffs? And how did they find each other, that quickly? And Gibson Dunn wasn’t the only power player ready to jump in.


[Amy on the phone] Someone else shows up.


[Rebecca on the phone] Who?


[Amy on the phone] The frickin Texas Attorney General!


[Rebecca on the phone] What?!


[Amy on the phone] Yes. That one just like really shocked me because I—


[Rebecca on the phone] In family court, the office of the Texas Attorney General in like some just like, just like, like some kid in foster care, they’re intervening in that case to say that ICWA should be declared unconstitutional?


[Amy on the phone] That’s right.


[Rebecca on the phone] What the hell!? That’s so bizarre.


Rebecca Nagle: The Office of the Attorney General, one of the most powerful politicians in the entire state was there in family court. Imagine if you were filing for divorce or in the middle of an ugly custody dispute and your state AG showed up. I ran this by a few lawyers, they were all shocked.


Matthew Fletcher: State AG’s office would not participate in a case like that at all unless it reached perhaps an appellate or even a Supreme Court level within the state.


Rebecca Nagle: That’s Matthew Fletcher. He’s a citizen of Grand Traverse band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and a law professor at Michigan State University.


Matthew Fletcher: So it’s extraordinary for high-level persons and the attorneys in the state AG’s office to step down into the trial level and participate.


Rebecca Nagle: The Texas AG’s office didn’t find out about Antonio’s case through their child welfare department. They found out through Gibson Dunn. Once we confirmed this, we weren’t surprised because many of the lawyers who work at Gibson Dunn’s Texas offices used to work for the Attorney General and vice versa. It’s like a revolving door. The Texas AG came to family court with an agenda, not about Antonio, but about ICWA. He asked that Tarrant County judge to declare ICWA unconstitutional. It turned a custody dispute, a court case that determined the life of a 2-year old into a political battleground. We already knew from Jennifer’s blog and federal court documents that the Brackeens were able to adopt Antonio after both Navajo Nation and Cherokee Nation agreed to the adoption, but we didn’t know when the tribes agreed. And that detail stopped me in my tracks, because it was the same week the Brackeens filed the federal lawsuit. I shared this with law professor Matthew Fletcher.


[Rebecca speaking to Matthew] So they filed a federal lawsuit two days before those court record that all of the barriers to the adoption have been lifted.


Matthew Fletcher: Wow, that’s insane. They were going to win. I mean, it’s baffling and also disturbing that they’re willing to go to those lengths. These, it’s apparent to me these children are irrelevant, that they are part of the tool designed to destroy the Indian Child Welfare Act for reasons that I frankly do not understand.


Rebecca Nagle: The Brackeens didn’t file a federal lawsuit when they were losing custody. They filed the lawsuit when they were winning. Here is how Jennifer’s blog, read by a voice actor, describes the time they spent waiting to adopt Antonio.


[reading from Jennifer’s blog post] We did our Christmas card photo shoot at Thanksgiving. We had been told by CPS we would definitely have the adoption by Christmas so I planned the card accordingly. And as the days and weeks passed when I would have definitely had my card in the mail by now, we still didn’t even have a date. So we mailed the card on the way home from the adoption on January 8th. And Chad cleverly closed the envelopes with some red tape and wrote: sorry, this year our card got caught up in some red tape.


Rebecca Nagle: So those months they spent waiting to adopt Antonio had nothing to do with ICWA. It was just Texas being slow to finalize the paperwork. But here is how that same time period was described in court documents McGill filed right before Christmas. Quote, “For months, their adoption of A.L.M has been delayed, caught in a terrifying whirlwind of court proceedings that occurred only because the federal government classifies A.L.M. as an Indian child.” McGill alleged his clients were caught in a terrifying whirlwind created only by ICWA after the tribes agreed to the adoption, after they all knew the Brackeens would adopt Antonio. Normally, when building a big federal lawsuit, you want to pick the plaintiffs with the strongest case, which makes the Brackeens an odd choice. It’s almost like a white student suing a university over affirmative action because they were worried they wouldn’t get accepted, but in the end, they did. It just doesn’t make sense. But there’s this other way the Brackeens are the perfect plaintiffs. It’s less about how lawsuits work and more about how politics work, specifically politics in the state of Texas. The federal lawsuit, Brackeen v. Holland is now waiting on the steps of the Supreme Court. It got this far because the foster parents have powerful company: states. More than one. Here’s law professor Matthew Fletcher again:


Matthew Fletcher: When the state says, hey, there is this federal law that we think is wholly unconstitutional, even if what the state is saying is patently frivolous, it’s still going to get a hearing, and a serious one.


Rebecca Nagle: When the Brackeens filed their federal lawsuit, Texas was right there with them. We wanted to know why, and we had a way to find out. Public offices, like an Attorney General have to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests or FOIAs. So we filed FOIA requests to the office of the Texas Attorney General. They stonewalled us. But in building their case, they gave us a workaround, because they brought on other states. So we FOIA-ed those states and uncovered a web of communication. The same day Texas filed the federal lawsuit, they sent out an email blast inviting other states to join. The email was sent to mostly Republican Attorneys General with the subject line “new federalism case opportunity.” Of all the states Texas emailed, only three got back: Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio. And here’s what’s strange about those states.


Matthew Fletcher: It’s the states that have few Indian people, few Indian tribes, are the ones who are using this as a vehicle to assert states’ rights.


Rebecca Nagle: In the lawsuit, 26 states came out against Texas and in support of ICWA. Those states represent 94% of all tribes in the US. The four states who say ICWA is a bad law have less than 1% of all tribes in the United States. Those states also have very few ICWA cases, when we sent Louisiana a public information request, they told us they had 32 open cases involving Native children. Their annual caseload is over 10,000. In that email to other state AGs, Texas laid out why ICWA is a states’ rights issue: it’s all about the 10th Amendment.


Matthew Fletcher: The 10th Amendment says that states have all the powers left to govern that are not explicitly delegated to the United States. But that’s a lot of power.


Rebecca Nagle: Most family law is governed by states: marriage, divorce, custody over kids, how much child support you have to pay, and so on. And so Texas says ICWA, by butting into child welfare proceedings, is an example of federal overreach. Texas also says that ICWA is a burden on its child welfare agency.


Matthew Fletcher: So, for example, ICWA requires states, state agencies, to send notice to Indian tribes. And Texas says, we don’t want to notify tribes. You can’t make us. It’s kind of akin to a neener neener neener argument. We don’t want to do it, you can’t make us kind of thing.


Rebecca Nagle: To make sure we weren’t missing anything, we reached out to tribes, social workers and child welfare agencies in those four states. And what we found made the lawsuit even more perplexing because the state’s own child welfare agencies don’t support it. Before joining the lawsuit, the Attorney General of Louisiana reached out to his state’s child welfare agency, the agency told him ICWA is a great law, not a burden. Which is why the Secretary of Children and Family Services was shocked to see him join the lawsuit two days later. We heard similar surprise in Texas.


Leah Lopez: The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has a great working relationship with all three federally recognized tribes here in Texas.


Rebecca Nagle: This is Leah Lopez. She is a social worker who handles most of the ICWA cases for the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, a tribe in El Paso, Texas.


Leah Lopez: If there is an investigation and they have reason to believe that they’re one of our families, they will give us a call. Our on-call worker goes out with the investigator and they work the case together. It was surprising that this lawsuit came to be.


Rebecca Nagle: So if these Attorneys General aren’t following the advice of their own child welfare agencies, who are they listening to? And that was the biggest discovery in the pile of documents we uncovered. In all those thousands of pages of emails, we saw exactly who the AG’s are listening to, who they’re strategizing with, who they go to for legal advice, who they send drafts of documents to for approval. It’s not child welfare experts. It’s a handful of anti-ICWA lawyers. And that communication between anti-ICWA advocates and state AGs about using ICWA to advance state’s rights has been going on for years, since way before the Brackeens case, since before Antonio was born. The Brackeens didn’t just have states on their side. They got help from another unexpected place, a federal judge. That story after the break.


[ad break]


Rebecca Nagle: The strategy in this case isn’t new. Texas has used the courts to challenge federal laws and statutes for a long time.


[voice clip] More than 100 House Republicans on Thursday signed onto an amicus brief in support of the Texas lawsuit aimed at overturning the election result in four swing states.


[NPR clip] Now comes a new challenge brought by Texas and other GOP-dominated states, that Obamacare must be struck down in its entirety.


[CNBC clip] Texas is trying to invalidate the results of the presidential election in four key swing states.


Rebecca Nagle: A lot of those cases were filed in one judge’s district.


[NPR] A federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s public school . . .


[news clip] A federal judge in Fort Worth declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.


[news clip] U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth agreed with a Republican-led coalition of 20 states who brought the lawsuit.


Rebecca Nagle: That was news coverage of a federal judge Reed O’Connor striking down the Affordable Care Act and Obama era guidelines on transgender bathrooms in schools. He’s also ruled against DACA and family leave for LGBTQ parents. Here’s Matthew Fletcher:


Matthew Fletcher: So he has a history of granting injunctions or striking down federal statutes that conservatives tend to not like. So if you want a federal statute to go away, at least for a little while, you can always count on Reed O’Connor.


Rebecca Nagle: In 2018, the Associated Press called him conservatives’ go-to judge. Even The Wall Street Journal has accused him of going too far. Judge Reed O’Connor serves in the Northern District of Texas, and the way his district works is unique. If you want a federal lawsuit to go to the Supreme Court, you have to start in District Court. It’s like the ground level. District courts have a lot of judges, so when you file a lawsuit, you don’t know who will hear your case. But the northern district of Texas is different. There, judges have worked out their own system to divvy up cases and so, when you file a civil lawsuit in a handful of counties, you have a good chance of winding up in Judge Reed O’Connor’s courtroom. Over half the lawsuits the Texas AG has filed challenging federal laws have landed in Reed O’Connor’s lap. And here’s where the Brackeens start to make sense as plaintiffs. It’s not because of the details of their custody case, it’s because of where they live: in Tarrant County, Texas, in Reed O’Connor’s district.


Matthew Fletcher: If you think you can find a judge or a court that would be supportive of position you’re taking, strategically it always makes sense to go to that venue if you possibly can. Lawyers and judges don’t like to talk about it, but that’s a realistic thing.


Rebecca Nagle: They’ve venue shopped. Remember earlier when I said there were factual discrepancies between the details of the custody case and what the Brackeens claimed in federal court? Well, I found discrepancies like that all over the place, and they really matter. The whole lawsuit turns on the story the Brackeens and their lawyers tell. That story determines whether or not the Brackeens were harmed by ICWA, whether or not that harm violated their constitutional rights, whether or not the Brackeens have the legal standing to bring this lawsuit in the first place. But early on, Judge Reed O’Connor did the Brackeens, McGill and the Texas A.G. a real favor. Federal courts have this process for collecting evidence in a civil lawsuit. It’s called Discovery. But McGill argued that wasn’t necessary. And Judge O’Connor agreed. Now that the case is on appeal, it’s too late. So what that means is that the federal judges reviewing this case are taking everyone on their word. They don’t have all the documentation that I have. You, as a listener to this podcast, have information that has never been presented in federal court. And all of this—the story, the venue shopping, the strategy—it worked.


[news clip] Shockwaves are going through the Native American community, and that’s after a federal judge calls landmark legislation involving Native American adoption, illegal.


Rebecca Nagle: In October of 2018, Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that ICWA, in its entirety, is unconstitutional. There are a lot of legal ways I could talk about his decision, but here’s the simplest version: Judge O’Connor took the Indian Child Welfare Act, a 40-year old statute, and chucked it out the window. Now it’s up to the Supreme Court whether or not that decision will stand. Today, Sandy White Hawk is a national advocate for Native families. Most of her work is helping other adoptees reconnect and heal. But she knows that ICWA is under attack, and I wanted to hear what she thought about this case.


[Rebecca to Sandy White Hawk] So people who oppose ICWA say that the law disadvantages Native kids because it treats them differently than other kids and that it’s a bad law for Native children. What would you say to that?


Sandy White Hawk Bad how? How’s it treat them bad? Do you got an example or?


[Rebecca to Sandy] Yeah. So I think like in these particular cases, they say that it puts the interests of the tribe over the best interests of the child.


Sandy White Hawk No, I don’t know what you call it when you take something and misconstrue it. That is so not true. Because people do not understand the law, do not understand the structure of a tribe, they don’t know anything about Indian families and our connection to each other.


[Rebecca to Sandy] So in this most recent lawsuit, the actual legal argument is that it’s unfair to the white, foster and adoptive parents because it puts them last in line.


Sandy White Hawk Give me a fucking break. I’m sorry. That’s my, that’s, that’s my immediate emotional response. You can edit all this out. Jesus. It puts them last. Talk about privilege. We shouldn’t be last because we’re white, just because we’re white. Go ahead. I’m sorry.


[Rebecca to Sandy] Well, I was just going to say, what would you say in response to that?


Sandy White Hawk I guess my response really would be that’s a true expression of white privilege, that they would assume that they could have their needs over a child that’s not even of their culture. That they feel that they have a right is just beyond me. You know, I remember being told, you know, we took you from the reservation so you would have a chance. You know, a chance at what? We’re given nothing to deal with the major, micro and macro aggressions that happen on the daily. Most white families to this day minimize racism like crazy. So you’re emotionally isolated to the point of, you know, overload, which is why for adoptees, there’s such a high rate of suicide and addiction.


Rebecca Nagle, narrating: Native leaders aren’t wondering why a couple who already won custody brought this lawsuit, or why the states with the tiniest of ICWA caseloads are the ones leading the charge. What is baffling about the underlying facts of this case does not baffle Native leaders, because the consensus in Indian country is that this case was never about ICWA, just like boarding schools were never about helping Native children.


Matthew Fletcher: It’s not about kids. It was never about kids for the organizations. Or even the states that are part of this case.


[Rebecca to Matthew] So if this case isn’t about the adoptions that are supposedly at the center of it, then what is it about?


Matthew Fletcher: Well, it’s about the future of Indian law.


Rebecca Nagle, narrating: I asked that question to a lot of people.


Fawn Sharp: It definitely is so much more than just the welfare of children. I think there’s a strategic and aggressive and intentional and a deliberate and a bold effort to undermine every bit of tribal sovereignty.


Sarah Kostelnik: Really thinking about ICWA as being the first test case, if you will, for really all a federal Indian law being undermined by questioning the status of tribal citizens and the sovereign authority of tribal governments.


Chief Hoskin: I think it’s a pivotal moment for sovereignty in this country. And the question will be whether this country continues to understand that tribes are sovereign nations, that we ought to be able to exercise the right to protect our resources, whether their natural resources, or in this case, something more precious, our children and our future.


Rebecca Nagle: That was the president of the National Congress of American Indians, the Executive Director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, and the Principal Chief of Cherokee Nation. Native leaders who are watching this case are not just worried about future generations of Native children. They’re worried about the future existence of tribes. Even with states attached, McGill needed other plaintiffs, plaintiffs to make his case stronger, foster parents who, unlike the Brackeens, didn’t have an easy time getting around ICWA. And he found a case, in Minnesota. Next time on this land,


Anita Fineday: When they terminate parental rights, it’s as if the whole biological family is deceased. You don’t even have a right to see your brothers and sisters anymore.


Robyn Bradshaw: They had no grandparents’ rights. I was calling every attorney in town and I got rejected, turned down. I couldn’t get no help anywhere.


Rebecca Nagle: This Land is reported, written and hosted by me, Rebecca Nagle, [speaks in Cherokee] citizen of Cherokee Nation. Additional reporting this season from Maddie Stone, Martha Troian, citizen of Obishikokaang Lac Seul First Nation, and Amy Westervelt. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Jon Favreau, Sarah Geismer, Lyra Smith and Katie Long, with special thanks to Alison Falzetta. From Critical Frequency, our managing producer is Amy Westervelt, our senior producer is Sarah Ventre and our story editor is Rekha Murthy. Additional editing for Martha Troian and Pauly Denetclaw, who is Dine. Sound Design by Lyra Smith, Marc Bush and Charlotte Landes. Original score composed by Jarod Tate, citizen of Chickasaw Nation. Our outro song is an honor song for adoptees, written and sung by Jerry Dearly, who is Oglala Lakota. Our fact checker is Wudan Yan. Our First Amendment attorney is James Wheaten, founder of the First Amendment Project. Podcast Art by Keli Gonzalez, citizen of Cherokee Nation. Jennifer Brackeen’s blog was read by voice actor Alisa Sia.


If you’re enjoying the show, please rate, review and subscribe. It helps more people find us. And please share it with your friends. If you have a tip or information to share related to our reporting, you can do that securely and anonymously through our secure drop. You can find a link in the show notes. To see a detailed timeline of Antonio’s case, visit ThisLandpodcast dot com. We’ll link to it in the show notes as well. This season of This Land touches on different forms of family, childhood and racial trauma. If you feel like you could use support, please check our show notes or website, ThisLandpodcast dot com to find resources for adoptees and survivors of childhood trauma abuse, foster care, and boarding schools.



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