52 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 37: 1 2017]
resulted. Shortly after their birth in 2010, Laurynn Whiteshield and her twin sister Michaela
were removed from their parents and placed with a non-Indian foster family in Bismarck, North
Dakota.301 When county officials sought to terminate parental rights, however, the Spirit Lake
Sioux tribe invoked ICWA and had the case transferred to tribal court, which ordered that the
children be placed with their grandfather, Freeman Whiteshield, on the Spirit Lake Reservation,
despite the fact that Freeman’s wife, Hope Whiteshield, had a record of child neglect charges.302
A month later, Hope grew angry at the twins while they were playing outside, and threw them
down an embankment.303 Laurynn died from the head trauma, and Hope was sentenced to thirty
years in prison.304 Michaela was returned to the custody of the non-Indian family from whom
she had originally been taken.305
Even where there is no such abuse, ICWA’s foster and adoption preference scheme
imposes unnecessary suffering on children who are denied stability and sometimes taken away
from homes where they feel safe and loved. This often happens in ways that do not even
preserve tribal cultural integrity.
That was true in the case involving Lexi, the six-year-old Choctaw girl in California who
was removed from the foster family where she had lived for four years and sent to live with her
father’s step-second cousins in Utah.306 Lexi (short for Alexandria) was born in December,
2009, to a mother addicted to methamphetamine, who had lost custody of at least six children
301 See Flatten, supra note 223, at 3.
302 Id. at 29.
305 Id. On June 3, 2016, President Obama signed the Native American Children’s Safety Act, Pub. Law No. 114-165,
which requires criminal background checks for foster parents in cases involving tribal social services agencies.
306 To be precise, the Utah family consisted of distant cousins by marriage: Ginger R., whose uncle had been married
to Lexi’s late grandmother, and Ginger R.’s husband. Neither were related by blood to Lexi. In re Alexandria P., 1
Cal. App. 5th 331, 340 (2016).