According to the Lakota People's Law Project, on Wednesday, February 6, National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” aired a report by Peabody award winning journalist Laura Sullivan: “South Dakota Tribes Accuse State of Violating Indian Welfare Act”. Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Ben Luján (D-NM) called for more information from the State of South Dakota and for a Congressional hearing.
"It makes you angry...This is emotional and it's real and it's not right."
- Rep. Ben Luján
BIA Affirms Commitment to Indian Child Welfare Act
Markey and Lujan Letter to Bureau of Indian Affairs 2012
February 11, 2013
After reading reports submitted by the Sioux Tribes' Coalition for Children and Families, Congressmen Markey and Luján expressed concern and called for action in an NPR broadcast by Laura Sullivan "South Dakota Tribes Accuse State of Violating Indian Child Welfare Act".
“It makes you angry. I hope it makes people’s blood boil. This is emotional and it’s real and it’s not right.” Congressman Luján was most upset by what he felt was a lack of information from the State of South Dakota according to the NPR broadcast. “If they won’t do it in a public way, then someone needs to go in with subpoena authority to get to the truth of the matter.”
In late 2011, a bipartisan group of congressmen called on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to verify the facts on the ground in South Dakota after Laura Sullivan’s investigative series “Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs said that it would convene a summit of all of the stakeholders in March 2012, but the summit did not occur in 2012. In the face of this inaction the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Directors of the nine Sioux reservations in South Dakota – The Coalition of Sioux Tribes for Children and Families – issued two reports to Congress with the assistance of the non-profit Lakota People’s Law Project. The first report focuses on the original request for third party verification of the material contained in the NPR investigative series and is called “Reviewing the Facts: An Assessment of the Accuracy of NPR’s 'Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families'”. The coalition also submitted a second report based on disturbing information it discovered concerning the giving of prescription drugs by the State of South Dakota to Native American foster children, called “Is South Dakota Over-Prescribing Drugs to Native American Foster Kids?”
Markey expressed his frustration with the BIA's delay in taking action: “We cannot stand idly by as Indian children are ripped from their homes and placed in foster care unnecessarily." The promise of a spring summit has been renewed by Kevin Washburn, the new assistant secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior. In a letter to the Representatives, Washburn announced that he has created a BIA working group to increase employees’ knowledge of the Indian Child Welfare Act and he also committed himself to attending the summit. Other lawmakers in addition to Luján and Markey also want to attend.
State officials reportedly told NPR that they are not acting illegally when they remove native children since they always obtain a court order. However, according to the broadcast, tribal leaders and legal experts claim that the State is still failing to place the children with relatives, tribal members, or Indian families. Judge BJ Jones, a national expert on the Indian Child Welfare Act and a tribal court judge in South Dakota, countered the assertion of state officials: “You don’t have any tribal court judges passing orders saying put the kid in a white home.” Jones faults the state for not doing an adequate job of placing children with their extended families and relatives, as is required by the ICWA.
Raymond Cournoyer, the Indian Child Welfare Act Director for the Yankton Sioux Tribe and co-chair of the ICWA directors' coalition, was quoted in the broadcast: “We can’t give up. We got to keep moving forward even if we make a lot of people mad at us. We’re always not in the driver’s seat. It’s time to take control.”
The Lakota People's Law Project is petitioning congressional members to come to South Dakota and participate in field hearings on Native foster care sometime this spring. The law firm has been partnering with tribes and leaders in South Dakota since 2005 from its offices in Rapid City, SD and Santa Cruz, CA to challenge more than 150 years of injustice against Native American families. The Lakota People’s Law Project 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 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.