US & Canada

Cherokee girl Veronica is handed over to adoptive parents

Veronica, the child at the centre of an international adoption dispute, smiles in a bathroom of the Cherokee Nation Jack Brown Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma 6 August 2013
Image caption Veronica has lived about half her life with her birth father

A Cherokee girl has been returned to her adoptive parents, ending a bitter custody battle that raised questions of parental and Native American rights.

Veronica, four, was handed over to the South Carolina couple by her birth father as his appeal bid failed.

Oklahoma's Supreme Court bowed out of the case late on Monday, effectively validating her adoption.

The Cherokee Nation, to which the girl's birth father belongs, had insisted she would stay with the tribe.

Veronica was transferred on Monday night to Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who came to Oklahoma last month insisting they would not go back to their home in Charleston, South Carolina, without the girl.

"She's safely in her parents' arms," said Jessica Munday, a spokeswoman for the Capobiancos.

Veronica was given up for adoption by her non-Cherokee birth mother, Christina Maldonado, during pregnancy. Ms Maldonado had become estranged from the girl's biological father, Dusten Brown.

Image caption Matt and Melanie Capobianco at Oklahoma Supreme Court earlier this month

Veronica lived with the Capobiancos from her birth in September 2009.

But when she was 27 months old, Mr Brown won her back.

He was awarded custody under the Indian Child Welfare Act, which seeks to grant Native American families priority in adoptions of children born to members of any tribe.

But in June this year, the US Supreme Court ruled that law did not apply in this case because Mr Brown had been absent from Veronica's life and had not previously had custody of the child.

While it considered the case, Oklahoma's Supreme Court imposed a temporary order keeping Veronica with Mr Brown and his family.

But late on Monday, the court lifted that order and bowed out, without explaining its decision.

Image caption Dusten Brown (left) and his wife, who is not Veronica's biological mother, packed the girl's bags on Monday night

Its move left in place a South Carolina court order validating the adoption.

In a statement, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said Mr Brown and his family had packed clothes and toys for Veronica on Monday before she was driven to the Capobiancos, a short distance away.

Mr Hembree said that he hoped "the Capobiancos would honour their word that Dusten will be allowed to remain an important part of Veronica's life".

Based in Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation is the largest of three tribes considered descendants of the Cherokee people in the south-eastern part of the country, before their forcible relocation by the US government in the 1830s.

Hundreds of tribes operate at various levels of semi-autonomy from the US, even using separate court systems.

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