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Reviewing the Facts in NPR's Native Foster Care Series, and Investigating Pharmaceutical Drug Use in South Dakota Foster Care

January 22, 2013

Following NPR reporter Laura Sullivan's 2011 series on the Native foster care system in South Dakota, a bi-partisan group of Congressional representatives sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Interior calling for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to report on the veracity of the NPR's claims. The Assistant Secretary at the time, Larry Echo Hawk, promised to issue such a report and to organize a summit that would bring together state, federal, and tribal leaders to examine the current state of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in South Dakota. The BIA failed to act on its promise, and in mid-2012, the Coalition of Sioux Tribes for Children and Families decided to issue its own report to Congress.

The Lakota People's Law Project assisted the Coalition by conducting research and preparing a draft of the report, which was approved and finalized in January 2013. Two reports were issued. The first thoroughly examines the claims made in the NPR stories, providing data and sources to back them up. The second report examines an issue that was not touched on by NPR, but the Coalition of Sioux Tribes felt it was important enough to merit its own report: The Over-drugging of Native Foster Children in State Custody.

The reports had a significant impact. Most importantly, they prompted members of Congress to hold the Bureau of Indian Affairs accountable to its promise to hold a summit, which took place in Rapid City, SD from May 15 to 18, 2013.

Both reports can be downloaded below. In addition, we have archived all of the source material used in preparing the reports.

Reviewing the Facts: An Assessment of the Accuracy of NPR’s Native Foster Care-Lost Children, Shattered Families

Is South Dakota Over Prescribing Drugs To Native American Foster Kids?

Below are quotes and videos that portray problems that were addressed in these reports.

Judge William Thorne walking across the convention floor at the Great Plains ICWA Summit

Great Plains ICWA Summit, May 2013

"It's been the law for 35 years, and we're still having trouble getting them to follow it. But if we can convince them that this is really best for everybody, including Indian kids, then hopefully we will make some progress."

"If we were to look at our system through the eyes of a child, we would probably not be very happy with what we see."

—Judge William Thorne
video still of young Lakota boy looking forlor

"They advised me that if I took him into ceremonies, that they would take him right away because that's me trying to kill him. That I was trying to kill him by putting him in a sweat lodge..."

—Arvella Pomani

video still of 3 tribal leaders sitting together

Tribal Leaders Respond to the Mette case

"Something is going on. Something that shocks the conscience is happening. And we want help. We need your help."

"Legitimized cultural genocide. That's happening right now, as we speak. We lose over 700 kids every year. That's... that's our future generation."

—Chase Iron Eyes
image of young Lakota boy standing in front of plaground

NPR's Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families

In October, 2011, NPR's Laura Sullivan aired the first part of an investigative series titled Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families.  In response to this, members of Congress, including Jim Moran and Ed Markey, wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice asking for further investigation. You can view the letters here.  By the following year, no action had been taken. In the fall of 2012, the Coalition of Sioux Tribes for Children and Families released the report above, exploring in detail and confirming the allegations put forth in Sullivan's NPR exposé.