February 11, 2016

Congresswoman Calls Trafficking of Native Americans an ‘Epidemic’

Matthew Renda

The specter of sex trafficking’s disproportionate effect on Native American children in South Dakota has risen to such an appalling level that Congressional leaders have finally begun to take note.

Kristi Noem, the Republican Congresswoman representing South Dakota, told the Native Sun News in January that sex trafficking on the nine Lakota Sioux reservations in South Dakota have reached “epidemic levels.”

“Native American children are targeted because they live in poorer areas,” she told the Native Sun. “They tend to be in foster care more often and therefore they need more protection.”

Noem is part of an emerging consensus that there is a disturbing nexus between children in foster care and the child sex trafficking industry.

In 2013, 60 percent of the children recovered by the FBI as part of raids on various child trafficking operations had affiliations with foster care, according to the National Council on Youth Law.

This has particularly detrimental repercussions for Native American children in South Dakota, where Native Americans account for approximately 54 percent of the annual incoming foster care population despite comprising only 13 percent of the youth population.

“In South Dakota, our Native American children are overrepresented in foster care at 2-2 and a half times a greater rate than the general population of South Dakota,” Noem told NSN.

While it is encouraging to hear a South Dakota-based federal official acknowledge that the foster care system in South Dakota has disproportionate populations of Native Americans, more needs to be done to reform the South Dakota Department of Social Services, which continues to seize Indian children at a rate of approximately 740 per year.

“In South Dakota, our Native American children are overrepresented in foster care at 2-2 and a half times a greater rate than the general population of South Dakota,” 

– Kristi Noem, South Dakota U.S Congresswoman

The DSS has been slapped with two lawsuits in the past year for their allegedly racist practices towards Native Americans, one brought by the ACLU, which they lost, and one by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is still pending.

The former lawsuit effectively proves South Dakota continues to violate the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which dictates that children who are removed from their families be placed back with their tribes, so they can retain their culture, heritage and language.

Noem’s comments underscores an important consideration in that children who are removed from the reservations are often put in worse situations when they are put into foster care, where they are susceptible to the depredations of child sex trafficking rings.

Lakota People’s Law Project has been working on the issue for more than a decade. The law and policy organization has secured federal grants so the tribes can begin to establish their own child and family services on the reservation, thereby circumventing the DSS.

In order to further the renewal of the Lakota people in South Dakota, a full accounting of the past crimes of the federal policy and how they have led to the present dire circumstances is necessary. For this reason, the Lakota People’s Law Project is calling upon the United Stated Congress to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Similar to the commission recently convened in Canada, the purpose of the commission is to reckon with the Boarding School Era, where children were stolen from their families and put in Catholic Boarding Schools, where they were punished for speaking their Native languages and expressing their culture.

LPLP has long believed the child foster care crisis is simply a more sophisticated extension of the Boarding School Era.

A TNR Commission would not only analyze the injustices the federal policies committed in the past, but how they affect the present and what solutions can offer effective redress.

To sign our petition please visit here.

Please donate to the cause here.