If You Want To #SaveLexi, You Don’t Have To Be Racist About It

You may have heard about Lexi Page, the six-year-old part-Choctaw girl who was taken from her foster family under the Indian Child Welfare Act. Lexi was moved to live with her sister under the guardianship of non-Choctaw relatives of her father, through whom she has her heritage.

The ICWA was put in place to help keep Native American families together, and the Choctaw Nation has asserted that at no time was Lexi ever eligible for adoption — her foster family, the Pages, tried and were unable to adopt her. The plan was always for foster care to be temporary and for Lexi to eventually be reunited with her family. The Pages are understandably heartbroken, and are fighting to get custody.

The ICWA seems on its face, in this situation, to be an antiquated law, especially when detractors cite the fact that Lexi is 1/64 (or 1.56 percent) Choctaw. Recall, though, that throughout the entire course of American history since the colonial era, miscegenation between Native Americans and other racial groups has been common, meaning that many Native American people are mixed-race, and that if we were to draw a line after which people are no longer Native American “enough,” many tribes would lose whatever foothold they have on preserving their heritage. Recall, too, that in American history, white people in this country have used a “one drop” rule to determine who is or isn’t a person of color.

And, unfortunately, this story has in many ways become an issue of race. Take, for example, conservative LA Daily News columnist Susan Shelley, who compares the Choctaw Nation’s use of the ICWA to actual human sacrifice. Note that Shelley uses as an example another American tribe, but one that was wiped out 400 years ago by diseases carried by Europeans to the South American continent:

“Five hundred years ago, the Incas sacrificed children.

They removed children as young as six from their families, transported them with great ceremony to a mountain location, and left them to die of exposure.

Did they have the moral right to do it?

Some people think so. ‘To their credit,’ wrote Kim MacQuarrie, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, anthropologist and author, ‘the Incas did their best to ensure the survival of their people and empire by paying close attention to nature and doing their best to use every means at their disposal, including human sacrifice, to gain control over it.’

There’s something seriously wrong with any kind of reasoning that places human sacrifice in the category of ‘doing their best.’

And there is something seriously wrong with what happened in Santa Clarita this week to a 6-year-old girl named Lexi and the foster family that has cared for her since she was 2. […]

This is not human sacrifice, but it is closely related. It is collectivism, the opposite of individual rights.”

What Shelley is arguing in the end, here, is that any collectivism is tantamount to ritual sacrifice. And that, too, is a troubling claim to make in the context of laws protecting Native Americans — many Native American tribes were or are, after all, collectivist cultures. Under this line of reasoning, the existence and preservation of American Indian culture is morally equal to condoning murder.

It’s a kooky argument to make, even for a Fountainhead-pounding conservative. But Shelley is in many ways acting as the id of some of the Page’s more extreme supporters. In fact, the Pages were so dismayed by the racial tone of some of the coverage and comments around this story that they had to release a statement asking their supporters to please not mount racially-motivated attacks:

“We know many people are angry and we are, too, but we must remember to focus our angry rightly. This is not a fight against the Native American community, or the Choctaw Community, or Lexi’s extended family, biological or otherwise. We have many Native American supporters, and we have many non-Native detractors. This is not about race. This is about justice for a 6 year old child who, against her wishes, was heartlessly ripped from her dad’s arms by people paid by our tax dollars. Remember, Summer Page is part Native and the Page family regularly attended powwows even before she came to live in their home.”

No matter how you cut it, of course, this is a sad situation. The Choctaw Nation has been trying to preserve Lexi’s heritage for her for the last six years of her life. The Pages obviously love her. Lexi herself is stuck between either a life in which she has to shuttle back and forth to Utah to see her sister and relatives for as long as she’s in foster care, or one in which she has to leave a foster family who she wants to be with. With the Pages “fighting back,” she’s going to be stuck in the middle of litigation at all of six years old. No matter what happens, it doesn’t really sound like Lexi is going to have the ideal childhood anyone with a heart would hope she’d have. And in the meantime, what use is it making racist statements about the culture to which she and her biological family belong?

[LA Times, LA Daily News]

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