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.