By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minneapolis couple says they are trying to give a 6-year-old girl a better life, but tribal law is preventing that from happening.

Jason and Danielle Clifford are foster parents and welcomed the girl into their home in July of last year.

The county was set to approve adoption, but the White Earth Nation intervened saying the girl should live with her biological grandmother.

“We fell in love with her right away. She loved us very quickly,” said Jason.

Danielle and Jason were unable to have kids of their own, so they decided to “foster to adopt,” and they feel that fate gave them a perfect match.

“She’s just a sweet, little girl who wants to be loved and to love on others. We talk about being kind and courageous,” said Danielle.

The 6-year-old girl they’re talking about has lived with them more than a year. When the girl was 3 her parents were arrested for drugs and child neglect and lost their parental rights. Child advocates also said the maternal grandmother, who has a criminal history, was unfit to raise the girl. And even though the grandmother is part of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, the tribe denied the girl membership saying in a letter that she didn’t qualify.

“We assumed that everything had been taken care of,” said Danielle.

But in January, as the Cliffords were set adopt, the girl’s grandmother and White Earth representatives blocked the process.

“Why now? Why come forward when the biological grandma has been ruled out multiple times and not even allowed unsupervised visitation,” said Danielle.

The Cliffords said they were told White Earth didn’t have all the information when they denied the girl membership, leaving Jason and Danielle’s dream of a family in limbo.

“We feel she’s our daughter and we are going to fight to keep her because in our minds we’ve adopted her already,” said Danielle.

“Our biggest concern is that they win and what are her chances for the future if that happens,” said Jason.

The Cliffords will have another court date on Oct. 2, and their attorney feels confident they’ll win.

Federal law says a parent of the child must be a tribal member and the girl’s parents don’t qualify.

But state law says the tribe can decide membership in certain cases.

When reached by phone, a White Earth spokesman said they had no comment on the case.

John Lauritsen

Comments (7)
  1. Missi Hill says:

    ICWA laws are there for this very reason.

    1. I agree!! I usually avoid the comment section, but Im so glad I didnt for this one. As a foster parent, I know that reunification with the family should be the goal- ESPECIALLY for Native kids. If its impossible, thats another thing. I hope she has a gaurdian et litem

  2. Just because you *feel* you’ve done something doesn’t mean you have. If an adoption is not needed, it’s not needed and trying to force one just because *you* want to adopt is cruel and unnecessary. The comment they made about her basically not having a future if she remains with her tribe is pretty racist too.

  3. Ethan Keller says:

    This is an issue of fundamental sovereignty; not how someone “feels.” The TV attitudes are telling. I hope they can cope when they realize, finally, that their illusions really are selfish dreams.

  4. cannereed says:

    I just want to point out that their legal status is foster parents. Unless Minnesota has extrodinary laws part of their contract prohibits them from publically discussing this case. It appears that by going to the media they have violated their contract with the state. The child should be removed from their home based on them violating their contract alone. I am sorry for them, but, they should have had an attorney that was on top of this situation. They should have insisted that they had a child that had been legally fully freed for adoption.

    1. Missi Hill says:

      I’m so glad you pointed that out, I was wondering whether any privacy laws had been violated.

  5. Genocide includes removing children from their culture. Promoting elements of genocide as being of benefit to anyone is grotesque. I know someone of unknown European-American decent whose foster-mother was very obviously Native. Her foster mother did everything she could to maintain her foster daughters ties to her biological family because actual facts overwhelmingly show that children adopted away from their biological families have far worse long term outcomes.even when adopted into ideal homes, than children who maintain ties to their biological families. Though she worked to educate herself on what an American child of long forgotten European decent needed to learn she knew that she could never be a reasonable substitute for the child’s biological family. It was because she loved her that she felt best interest of the child should come first, she always said “Why would I need ‘ownership papers’ she belongs to herself first, her family second, and her community third. This is about what’s best for her not what’s best for me” she never put her own desires above what was best for her foster daughter and even spent her own money helping the child’s biological mother get rehabilitated so that, as a teenager, she could finally live with her birth family again because she loved the child enough to educate herself and understand that her own desires were no where near as important as what was best for her this foster child. In most industrialized and even third world nations non-kinship adoption is only legal when all other options are exhausted, the USA needs to stop ignoring outcomes for adopted children like lower graduation rates and higher teen pregnancy and criminal activity rates too. Outcomes matter, if they truly love this child why haven’t they looked into what is best for her in the long run? If they had they would already know that adoption outside of kinship is not at all in the child’s best interest.