As the ACLU further exposes the foster care crisis in South Dakota Indian Country, Lakota People's Law Project, A Positive Tomorrow and the tribes collaborate to pursue a lasting solution.
Bring the Lakota Children Home
Special Report on Direct Federal Funding for Tribes
August 20, 2014
The Lakota people have taken another positive step toward preserving their cultural sovereignty and solving the persistent foster care crisis in the state as two more tribes have joined the movement to apply for available federal funding to plan their own tribal-run foster care system.
“The addition of Flandreau and Lower Brule Sioux Tribes to the growing list of South Dakota-based Lakota tribes applying for federal funding demonstrates that the goal of establishing independent foster care systems is within reach,” said Chase Iron Eyes, attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “The Lakota tribal governments have done their part, it is time for the United States government to meet its obligation to Indian Country. No more broken promises, no more unfulfilled agreements.”
The Lower Brule and Flandreau Sioux Tribes became the two latest tribal governments to complete their Title IV-E Federal Planning Grant Applications to fund the planning of their own foster care programs. The two tribes, joining a coalition of South Dakota tribes attempting to wrest control from scandal-wracked South Dakota, brings the total number of tribes to seven, with another tribe, Rosebud, already having received their planning grant.
“We want to make sure this historic solution is realized,” Chase Iron Eyes continued. “The people best situated to care for our children are our own families and extended family network, which we call Tiospaye.”
Native-American advocacy group specializing in federal grants pertaining to tribes, A Positive Tomorrow, has worked tirelessly alongside members of tribal governments to assist in the submission of the applications.
“This is an important step for our tribe as we attempt to regain control of our children’s future and make sure they grow up with pride in their own culture and heritage,” said Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Chairman Michael Jandreau. “We are pleased to be part of this sovereignty movement in South Dakota.”
The federal government has expressed a willingness to help South Dakota tribes assert their rights as set forth in federal legislation.
“The Indian Child Welfare Act is a very important statute and it was enacted for a very important reason,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn during the May 2013 ICWA Summit held in Rapid City, at which officials from South Dakota conspicuously did not attend. “It was designed to address a very real problem, and in South Dakota at least, the problem still seems to exist.”
The tribes have been prompted to run their own foster care institutions after a 2011 report by National Public Radio asserted that the South Dakota Department of Social Services repeatedly and persistently violates the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.
ICWA is federal legislation passed in 1978 and intended to give Native American tribes a strong voice in child custody issues with the ultimate aim of ensuring tribes rights to maintain and preserve their language and culture. ICWA mandates that Indian foster children be placed with relatives, extended relatives, or other tribal members in the country.
The NPR report asserted that nine in ten native children were being placed into non-native homes in South Dakota by the DSS. This prompted tribal officials to identify ways to divert federal funding away from South Dakota’s social service agencies and transfer it into native foster care systems.
“We are losing our children to the system in South Dakota and sometimes in other states,” said Chairman Tony Reider from the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. “We may not ever see them again, and they will not know who they are. Our children are sacred, and we have many relatives capable of raising them, but the DSS almost always says ‘no’ to our people. In an historic effort, we are determined to qualify for federal funding and run our own Child and Family Services Programs.”
Furthermore, the report states that due to the designation of all Native children as “special needs” by the federal government, South Dakota financially benefits from the placement of Indian children in state-run foster care facilities. Almost all such facilities in South Dakota have become psychiatric institutions collecting approximately three times as much federal money per day as the foster care facilities.
The planning grant applications are being submitted for funding under the terms of the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, commonly referred to as the Baucus Act. The law introduced major changes to the Social Security Act, primarily in Section IV-E, regarding foster care and adoptions assistance payments to the states. This is one of the major changes that made it possible for federally recognized tribes to receive direct IV-E payments to support their own child and welfare programs without state intervention. Previously Section IV-E monies could only be given to state agencies.
The planning grant program under the Baucus Act can award individual planning grants up to $300,000 and has a total annual budget of $3 million. According to the Tribal Directory of the Bureau of Indian Affairs there are 566 federally recognized tribes. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe received a Baucus planning grant in 2013.
Along with Flandreau and Lower Brule, five more Sioux tribes are submitting applications under the Baucus Act this year: Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Standing Rock, Yankton and Pine Ridge.
In total, eight out of the nine Lakota tribes in South Dakota have already received or have applied for the grants.