Lakota Spring Comes to South Dakota: Idle No More, Native People Organize to Get Their Children Back from State Foster Custody and Create Tribal Family Services

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According to the Lakota People's Law Project, Lakota groups and leaders in South Dakota have an ambitious spring agenda that includes a Bureau of Indian Affairs summit on Native foster care, seeking direct federal funding for their own family service programs, and working with Congress to ensure enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act. To prepare for the summit, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will hold two sets of pre-summit hearings: the first on April 20th at Grand River Casino in Mobridge, South Dakota, and the second on April 26th at Prairie Nights Casino in Fort Yates, North Dakota.

Idle No More has become the rallying cry of Native people.

Spring in South Dakota will be a busy time for Lakota leaders, tribal governments, and the Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP). The Bureau of Indian Affairs will host a summit on Native foster care issues on May 15-17 in Rapid City. The summit is occurring largely because of a hard-hitting report submitted to Congress by Sioux tribal leaders in February 2013. The report, written with technical assistance by LPLP, affirms reporting by National Public Radio in October of 2011 that while Lakota children make up over half of youth in foster care in South Dakota, nearly 90% of them are placed by South Dakota’s Department of Social Services into non-Native homes—in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The report argues for a thorough overhaul of Native foster care in South Dakota.

To prepare for the BIA-sponsored summit in May, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will hold two sets of pre-summit hearings in April of this year. At these hearings Lakota relatives who have lost children to the foster care system will be invited to speak, on camera, about their experiences with the Department of Social Services. The first of these hearings will be on April 20th at Grand River Casino in Mobridge, South Dakota, from 9 AM-4:30 PM. The second will be on April 26th at Prairie Nights Casino in Fort Yates, North Dakota, from 4 PM to 9 PM. The Standing Rock tribal government is making a substantial investment to explore having its own family welfare system and to secure long term direct federal funding to support it. The Lakota People’s Law Project is providing technical assistance in this effort. LPLP is also circulating an online petition to encourage members of Congress to attend the May summit.

The Lakota in South Dakota have been showing increased strength on child welfare issues. In addition to the BIA summit scheduled for May, the ACLU filed a civil rights lawsuit in March, 2013 on behalf of the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Sioux Tribes. The lawsuit, Oglala Sioux Tribe et all v. Van Hunnik, South Dakota District Court, case # 13-50-20, is designed to ensure a proper 48 hour hearing for Lakota parents whose children have been taken into custody by DSS in Pennington County, South Dakota. This lawsuit comes on the heels of 1.5 years of steady reporting by National Public Radio on the failure of state-run foster care in South Dakota for Lakota people.

South Dakota tribes are fighting on issues other than child welfare, too. The Idle No More Movement began among the First Nations of western Canada to protest the harm to Native people and the environment caused by oil and pipeline development in Alberta. This re-assertion of political power by Native people is taking hold in the American Indian community. In South Dakota, tribes created the first signs of a Lakota spring last year in their successful attempts to reclaim Pe Sla’, one of their most sacred sites in the Black Hills that had been put up for auction by a white land owner.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leaders are accepting press interviews concerning the upcoming foster care hearings and the BIA sponsored summit in May. To reach them, please contact Chase Iron Eyes chase(at)LakotLaw(dot)org or Daniel Paul Nelson danielpaul(at)LakotaLaw(dot)org.

The Lakota People’s Law Project has been partnering with tribes and leaders in South Dakota since 2005 from its office in Rapid City to challenge more than 150 years of injustice against Native American families. These activities have included funding and supporting Native experts to provide technical assistance to the tribes on family and child welfare issues. The Lakota People’s Law project combines public interest law, research, education, and organizing in a unique model for advocacy and social reform.

The Lakota People's Law Project is sponsored by the non-profit Romero Institute based in Santa Cruz, California. The Institute is named after slain human rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Institute seeks to identify and dismantle the structural sources of injustice and threats to the survival of our human family.

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Sara Nelson

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