Lakota People’s Law Project Chief Counsel Daniel Sheehan Reviews Genocide Issues with UN Human Rights Officials

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On Tuesday, June 4, Lakota People’s Law Project Chief Counsel Daniel P. Sheehan presented a draft complaint and other materials to UN human rights officials Rekia Soumana and Giorgia Passarelli regarding the removal of Lakota children from their extended families and tribes. According to Sheehan, the State of South Dakota’s alleged non-compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act is a violation of section 2 (e) of the UN genocide convention of 1948 and the Federal Genocide Implementation Act of 1987.

Daniel P. Sheehan

Daniel P. Sheehan

Genocide includes forcibly transferring children of the group to another group..

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Article 2 (e) of the United Nations 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines an act of genocide as the removal of children from a religious, ethnic or racial group. Jeff Armstrong quoted the definitions in his May 29 article in Counter Punch on efforts that are being made by Lakota grandmothers to protect their families and tribes.

“Article 2 of the convention defines acts of genocide as follows:…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Armstrong alleges that United States policy toward the Lakota met all five of the criteria of genocidal acts at various times.

Duane Martin of the Lakota Strong Heart Warriors Society - Cante Tenza Okolakiciye - joined Sheehan at the meeting with UN officials by conference call from the Oglala Pine Ridge Reservation. Ms. Soumana, the Personal Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Ms. Passarelli is the director of the New York office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Soumana and Passarelli said that they would be open to receiving more information including a formal complaint documenting many of the items discussed in the conference call. Sheehan had an in person follow on meeting with Soumana and Passarelli to review and discuss the draft complaint Sheehan had sent to the Department of Justice and other material regarding the Native American foster care system in South Dakota.

Sheehan’s meeting with UN staff is an initial exploration of international redress for the Lakota people. Sheehan has also been conferring with the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice regarding documented allegations of human rights violations by the State of South Dakota. Sheehan’s presentation focuses on alleged systematic breaches of the Indian Child Welfare Act, civil rights, and international human rights conventions. Title 18 of the US criminal code, Section 1091, Subsection A(6) the Genocide Implementation Act of 1987 (PL 100-106) provides for enforcement of the genocide convention within the United States with regard to the forced removal of children.

According to Sheehan and research conducted by the Lakota People’s Law Project, every year approximately 750 children are taken from their families and tribes and placed in state institutions or white foster care homes by the State of South Dakota. This pattern is an apparent systematic violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act that is slowly causing the tribes to disappear according to LPLP consulting anthropologist Dr. Randolfo Pozos. Native adults who had been taken by the state as children testified at the May 15 -17 ICWA Summit in Rapid City, SD before representatives of Congress, the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the Justice Department, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs which hosted the meeting. The State of South Dakota was invited but did not attend despite efforts by Kevin K. Washburn the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior who also attended the meeting.

In a 2011 Peabody Award winning investigative series, “Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families," NPR’s Laura Sullivan indicated that there is a financial incentive for the state to ignore ICWA due to the money it receives for housing the children in state owned or contracted facilities. The Indian Child Welfare Act directors for the nine Lakota tribes confirmed the basic information in the NPR series in a report they prepared in response to requests by US congressmen.

Mr. Sheehan has also been invited to attend a dialog on Indian child welfare on Thursday June 6 sponsored by the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. The featured speaker will be former US Senator Byron Dorgan who founded the Center for Native American Youth in 2011.

Now on contract with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, The Lakota People’s Law Project has been partnering with tribes and leaders in South Dakota since 2005 from its offices in Rapid City, SD and Santa Cruz, CA. LPLP is providing technical support for the tribes to gain direct federal funding for the development and operation of their own child and family service programs.
The project combines public interest law, research, education, and organizing into 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 structural sources of injustice and threats to the survival of our human family.

Romero of El Salvador. The Institute seeks to identify and dismantle structural sources of injustice and threats to the survival of our human family.

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Sara Nelson

Randy Pozos
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