National Post

Friday, March 12, 1999

Aboriginal criticism of custody ruling unfair: U.S. couple's lawyer
Native grandfather loses boy to adoptive white grandparents

Adam Killick
National Post

The lawyer representing a white, U.S.-based couple who were reunited yesterday with their adopted, half-aboriginal grandson -- by order of the Supreme Court of Canada -- says it's unfair to characterize the case as an an example of historic native assimilation.

Aboriginal leaders reacted angrily last month to the decision that granted custody of the three-year-old half-native, half-black boy to his adoptive grandparents instead of his Ojibwa natural grandfather, who lives on a reserve north of Winnipeg. The boy's mother, who is no longer involved with the child's upbringing, was the adopted daughter of the Connecticut-based couple, who, along with the native grandfather, have climbed through four levels of the Canadian court system in a custody battle drawn along racial lines.

Manitoba chiefs accused the high court of promoting cultural genocide and reverting to an abandoned government policy of plucking native children from their communities and placing them in middle-class, white adoptive families.

Julius Grey, the lawyer representing the Connecticut couple, said native leaders are misreading the facts of the case. "This is not a case on native adoption," Mr. Grey said. "This is a mixed [race] trial, and surely it's contrary to all principles to suggest that whenever a child is partially native and partially something else, the native parents should have preference. That's not a palatable position in the context of a non-discriminating society. This is not a case where you've got a fully native child, and you say, 'We've found a very nice white family for you.' "

But Eric Robinson, an aboriginal NDP MLA who represents the native grandfather, said the Supreme Court has acted anachronistically. "It would be a different story if the African-American parent was involved, but [he] hasn't been a factor since the child was born," Mr. Robinson said. The boy is "well-loved" in his grandfather's native community, he added, and it was his mother's wish that her son be raised in an aboriginal community.

Moreover, traditional native family lines are matrilineal, he said. The adoptive grandparents "can't see beyond their own needs and desires," he said.

The adoptive grandparents have pledged to help the native grandfather, who is on social assistance, to visit the child regularly, and have also set up an 800 number so he can call toll-free. Although the child's black father has never recognized the child's existence, the black grandparents of the child are "very anxious" to meet him, said Mr. Grey. "And that's one of the things the [adoptive parents] say they're going to do, they're going to bring him around to meet his other, totally different culturally, set of grandparents."

For their part, the adoptive grandparents were thrilled to be reunited with the boy, whom they raised for his first eight months. "It was overwhelmingly beautiful. He's such a great little guy," said the grandfather, a newspaper columnist. They are spending time with the child and his natural grandfather over the next week, before they return home.

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