DURANT, Okla. - After living with a foster family in California for four years, a 6-year-old girl was removed from their home after an Indian nation filed legal documents in the case.
It was a dramatic scene outside the Page home in Santa Clarita, California on Monday.
Lexi, 6, has been living with the Page family for four years as a foster child.
Now, she is being sent to live with extended family in Utah after the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma invoked the Indian Child Welfare Act, asking for her to be removed from the couple's home.
The act was created to keep Native American children with Native American family members.
Lexi is 1.5 percent Choctaw, meaning she is considered a member of the tribe.
Even though her biological parents relinquished custody years ago, her extended family in Utah has been fighting to bring her to that state.
However, the Page family has also attempted to adopt Lexi over the past several years but has been unsuccessful.
As she was taken to the car, she was clutched in the arms of her foster dad, Rusty Page, as her foster mother, Summer, and siblings screamed in the background.
The family issued a statement after Lexi was taken from them:
"Our family is so incredibly devastated. Our hearts are broken, and we are trying to make sense of everything that has happened with our three other children who witnessed their sister Lexi forcefully ripped away from our family by strangers.
But, nobody could possibly be more devastated than our 6-year-old daughter who found herself restrained in a car and driven away to go and live in a foreign place hundreds of miles from her family, friends, teachers, home and life.
Let me speak directly to the people who took our daughter and who have her now. Please, search deep into your heart and soul and do what's best for Lexi. Do the right thing, and bring Lexi back home.
Do not keep her one more minute. Do not force her to spend one more night away from us and her siblings. Look her in the eyes and just ask her what she wants. She will tell you she wants to go home. I'm begging every American within the sound of my voice to help us bring Lexi back home."
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma sent us this statement regarding the case:
“The Choctaw Nation’s values of faith, family and culture are what makes our tribal identity so important to us. From the beginning of this case, the Choctaw Nation advocated for Lexi’s placement with her family.
Lexi’s family was identified early on, and they have created a loving relationship with her. The Pages were always aware that the goal was to place Lexi with her family, and her permanent placement has been delayed due to the Pages’ opposition to the Indian Child Welfare Act.
We understand the public’s concerns for Lexi’s well being as this is our main focus, but it is important to respect the privacy of this little girl. We believe that following the Choctaw Nation’s values is in Lexi’s best interest.
The Choctaw Nation will continue to uphold these values and advocate for Lexi’s long-term best interest.”
The National Indian Child Welfare Association also sent us this statement regarding the case:
“We are disturbed by this weekend’s flurry of negative media attention regarding the attempted reunification of a child with her family in Utah. In this contentious custody case, there were no surprises as far as what the law required.
The foster family was well aware years ago this girl is an Indian child, whose case is subject to the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), and who has relatives who were willing to raise her if reunification with her father was unsuccessful.
In fact, the only surprising turn of events is the lengths the foster family has gone to, under the advice of an attorney with a long history of trying to overturn ICWA, to drag out litigation as long as possible, creating instability for the child in question.
That the foster family now argues bonding and attachment should supersede all else despite the testimony of those closest to her case, seems like a long-term, calculated legal strategy based on the simple fact that the law was always clear, they understood it, but just chose not to abide by it.
The purpose of foster care is to provide temporary care for children while families get services and support to reunite with their children, not to fast-track the creation of new families when there is extended family available who want
to care for the child. It is also the reason we view those who serve as foster parents as selfless and nurturing individuals. Placement with extended family is best practice for all children, not just Native American.
We call on the media to provide balanced reporting and to ask vital questions regarding these facts before inflaming the public and subjecting the privacy and future well-being of a little girl to a national debate.”
The situation is similar to a case that is well-known across Oklahoma.
Matt and Melanie Capobianco adopted a little girl, known as Baby Veronica, from an Oklahoma woman.
She lived with them for 27 months in South Carolina before courts gave Veronica's biological father, Dusten Brown, custody.
The case centered around Brown and Veronica being part Cherokee, and the Cherokee Nation argued that she should remain with Brown under the Indian Child Welfare Act.
A judge ultimately ruled she could stay with her adoptive parents instead of her biological dad in Oklahoma, who was part of the Cherokee tribe.
“The Oklahoma Court of Appeals basically said ICWA doesn’t trump the best interests of the child,” said Jim Ikard, an adoption attorney based in Oklahoma City.
Ikard hopes the girl's best interests are met as well in this case.
“What’s in the best interests of that child? To be with the family they’ve been with for four and a half years, that’s raised them with their other three children or to go someplace in Utah on a hypothetical when these people aren’t even Indian. They’re not even native American. They’re not even Choctaw,” Ikard said.