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Navajo Baby Given To Tribal Authorities

April 15, 1988

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ In an emotional scene, a crying Navajo baby caught in a tug-of-war of cultures screamed ″Da da″ as she was handed over to tribal authorities Thursday by her mother and her foster parents.

A judge had ruled earlier this week that the tribe has the right to decide who gets custody of 8 1/2 -month-old Alyssa Kristian Pitts, who was born on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.

The baby’s unmarried mother, Patricia Keetso, 21, had wanted Alyssa to be adopted by Rick and Cheryl Pitts of San Jose, and had placed the baby in their care at birth in what she said was an attempt to give the child a better life.

Alyssa reached out for her foster parents and her mother cried as the child was taken away by an Indian social worker Thursday.

Pitts’ father, Sam, said, ″Navajo people we have dealt with ... have little regard for law, for truth and for human dignity.″

Ms. Keetso, her mother and Mrs. Pitts accompanied the social worker, an Indian attorney and the baby on the flight to Arizona for a tribal court hearing.

After the group arrived in Phoenix, the social worker and Navajo officials got into a van with the baby and sped away, leaving behind a stunned Ms. Keetso and Mrs. Pitts.

They had expected to fly with the officials and Allyssa to Flagstaff before driving to the reservation.

In Window Rock, Ariz., an attorney for the Tribal Department of Justice, Violet A.P. Lui, said a custody hearing would be held soon. She said she didn’t know whether Ms. Keetso or the Pitts would be able to visit the baby.

The Navajos, citing the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, had filed a complaint in court in February to prevent the Pitts from adopting the child.

Lui said the law was passed to help protect the Indian culture from being depleted by the loss of children.

″So any decision on custody of this child must take place in Navajo court,″ she said. ″The tribe has a recognized separate interest in the child. This is consistent with the custom of many Indian people that the child belongs not only to the parent but to the extended family, to the clan.″

After hearings in San Jose, Superior Court Judge Leslie Nichols ruled that Ms. Keetso resided on the reservation and was under the jurisdiction of Navajo authorities. He ordered the Pittses to hand Allyssa over pending a tribal decision on custody.

Keetso says she will fight to get her daughter back and return her to the Pittses. The Pittses said they are ″devastated″ by the prospect of losing the baby they helped deliver and loved, and still hope to get the infant back.

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