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Part-Aleut Baby to Stay in Canada for Now, Judge Rules

January 11, 1990|CATHERINE GEWERTZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A part-Aleutian Indian baby who is the object of an international tug of war will remain with a Canadian couple until the battle over her fate is resolved, a judge decided Wednesday.

Under terms of an order by Superior Court Judge Robert J. Polis, 7-month-old Rebecca Argleben of Cypress will stay with a Vancouver couple pending another hearing in Santa Ana on Jan. 19. The baby has lived with the couple since Sept. 15, when her 18-year-old mother gave her up for adoption to avoid placing the child with her native Aleut tribe in Alaska.

Polis did not rule on the central issue of the thorny legal dispute: whether the Aleuts have the right to control Rebecca's adoption or whether her biological mother, Jodi Argleben, is entitled to decide who will rear her baby.

Saying he wanted to decide the matter "before the child is old enough to get a fishing license," Polis scheduled a final showdown for Jan. 19.

At issue Wednesday was whether the baby should stay where she is, return to her mother's Cypress home or be taken into foster care in Orange County until a court decides her future.

Polis said his decision had nothing to do with who has the right to rear Rebecca. He said he did not think it was in her best interest to be brought to Orange County when she might have to be moved again later to a new family.

Jack Trope, a New York lawyer representing the Aleuts, said via telephone that Rebecca should be placed in temporary foster care in Orange County pending the Jan. 19 hearing.

Jodi Argleben's lawyer, Christian R. Van Deusen, disagreed. He said placing the baby with the Department of Social Services in Orange County "is the most outrageous kind of abuse you can inflict on a child" and reuniting her briefly with her biological mother only to separate the two again would be wrenching for both of them.

Jodi Argleben wants the Canadian couple to adopt Rebecca, but that effort was foiled Friday by Justice Ian Donald of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, who got involved when the Aleuts intervened in the Canadian adoption. Donald ruled that Jodi violated international law when she took Rebecca to Canada. He said the baby should be returned to Orange County.

The Vancouver couple, whose identity has not been revealed, intends to appeal. Backed by Jodi Argleben's attorneys, they have argued that Rebecca has bonded with her new family and it would be painful for the baby to be separated from them now.

The Native Village of Akhiok, a tiny Aleut fishing town on Alaska's Kodiak Island where Jodi Argleben was born, bases its claim on the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which provides for the adoption of Indian babies by their relatives or by a tribal family if the biological parents give them up for adoption. The law is designed to stop the breakup of Indian families and the disappearance of their customs.

But Jodi Argleben, a single mother who was adopted at age 3 and reared by a Caucasian couple, has countered that the tribe should have no claim on Rebecca. She contends that she is only half Aleut, and that her baby, fathered by an American teen-ager of Swedish descent, is less than one quarter Aleut. She has vowed she will rear the baby herself rather than give Rebecca to the Aleuts.

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