On Memorial Day weekend 2001, Gene and Carol Campbell set out to find their foster daughter, who had been missing. They worried about the girl, Sierra Goodman, because she had been drawn deeper and deeper into satanic worship.
They found Sierra and her boyfriend, Darryl Headbird, walking down a road near their home in Bemidji and stopped to talk to them. They didn't know that Headbird had already murdered his father, and was prepared to murder them.
Headbird drew a knife and stabbed Gene in the neck, then chased and stabbed Carol. When a car approached, he fled with Sierra. They were later caught and jailed.
But the world works in mysterious ways. Last week, Sierra and Carol were part of a group that traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Only now Sierra's last name is Campbell. At age 18, she asked her former foster parents to adopt her.
Their unlikely and dramatic story is being retold now in an attempt to modify the ICWA, which was passed in 1978 to curtail the widespread placement of Indian children in non-Indian homes. The ICWA gives tribes strong jurisdiction over child custody and adoption cases in order to help them preserve their culture.
The issue is also being reviewed by the Supreme Court of the United States, which is hearing the case of "baby Veronica." That case involves a South Carolina couple that had adopted at birth the daughter of a young woman who was not a tribal member. Veronica was considered to be an Indian because of her father's tribal membership, so the couple had to give up the child after raising her for two years.
Ironically, Minneapolis attorney Mark Fiddler, who fought to keep Sierra from being adopted by the Campbells, is representing the non-Indian South Carolina couple. Fiddler, like the Campbells, believes the law was enacted with good intentions, but now believes it sometimes works against the best interests of the children.
That's what happened to Sierra.
When she was 7, Sierra and her two sisters were placed with the Campbells in foster care. She carried all she owned in a paper sack.
The girls were challenging and Sierra suffered the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome. But the Campbells quickly fell in love with the girls, and decided to adopt them. But the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwey objected because the Campbells are white. They battled in court for two years and the couple spent $80,000.
In the end, the girls were placed in Indian homes. Two of the girls bonded with their new families. Sierra did not. She repeatedly ran away from home to get back to the Campbells.
"By age 16, she'd been in 27 different homes," Carol said in an interview. "When she was placed in other homes she was pretty angry and hurt. They tried to force her to forget us. But she wanted to live with us."
While staying at a facility for troubled kids, Sierra dabbled in satanism and later met Headbird. Their downward spiral ended with the murder of his father and the attempted murder of the Campbells, who appeared in court in her behalf and begged for leniency.
Sierra is now 28 and lives with her boyfriend about an hour from the Campbells. She is doing well, according to Carol.
"We see each other about once a month and spend holidays together," said Carol.
And last week, they went to Washington to tell their story.
"I don't want to do away with the ICWA," said Carol. "I think it works in some cases. But I want to protect other kids from experiences that Sierra had."
Carol said they spoke to aides for more than a dozen members of Congress, and each time, Sierra repeated her message.
"Sierra told them that her happiness should come before the happiness of the tribe," said Carol. "She talked about how much pain she experienced when they took her away from us."
"Sierra is now doing as well as Sierra can do," said Carol. "We're very proud of her."
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