Who's Watching the Watchdog?

Since 2011, National Public Radio has reported on the egregious, systematic violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) by South Dakota’s Department of Social Services. This reporting reached tens of millions of people and won a Peabody Award. Most importantly, it helped spur a movement among our Lakota people. Recently our tribal leaders signed letters to Washington D.C. urging federal officials to help us fund our own foster care and adoption programs so we can reclaim our lost children. We know unequivocally that federal money for this purpose should go directly to the tribes, rather than to a state that fails to respect both our culture and the laws of this land.

Executive Summary         Read the Report

 Talking Points

We are on the right track but obstacles continue to arise, often from surprising sources. Sadly, in August of this year, a rogue ombudsman—a “watchdog”—at National Public Radio attacked his own news organization for airing our story. Based on his talks with DSS officials and the inaccurate figures and claims they provided him, he asserted that NPR’s original story unfairly denigrated said officials. NPR’s editors rejected this attack from within, saying, “We find the ombudsman’s unprecedented effort to ‘re-report’ parts of the [South Dakota Native foster care] story to be deeply flawed."

You can help us counteract the ombudsman’s misguided assault by taking the action steps below.

Lakota People’s Law Project joined with Richard Wexler, former executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR), to respond to the ombudsman’s polemic against his own news organization. Our report, “Who’s Watching the Watchdog?”,  reveals that the ombudsman essentially ignored Native American people and perspectives in writing his document, instead choosing to rely almost entirely on South Dakota Department of Social Services officials for his information. Our report proves that he misinterpreted important distinctions, used inaccurate statistics and came to the wrong conclusions.

You can help us continue to tell the real story. Counteract the ombudsman’s misguided assault by taking the following actions:

  1. Read (or skim) our report, “Who’s Watching the Watchdog?” (There is an executive summary to help you digest it.)
  2. Read Richard Wexler’s report, “The Schumacher-Matos report on NPR’s coverage of child welfare in South Dakota:
A case study in an ombudsman gone awry.”
  3. Read and understand our Talking Points, which outline the major problems with the ombudsman’s report
  4. Register with NPR then login and lend your voice to the comment stream about the ombudsman’s attack on his own news organization; or write your own piece about the tragic circumstances for Native children in South Dakota.

Lila Wophila Ichichapelo (thank you all for your time)

Chase Iron Eyes
South Dakota Counsel