One afternoon in 2008, Janice Howe—a Dakota Indian—waited at the bus stop for her grandchildren to come home from school. They never arrived.
That afternoon, a social worker had taken Janice’s grandchildren. They were driven to a white foster facility hundreds of miles away. The reason stated in the case file: a “rumor” that Janice’s daughter, Erin Yellow Robe, had been using drugs. She hadn’t. To this day, Janice’s daughter hasn’t been charged or arrested for drugs—or anything else.
For the next year and a half, Janice fought to get her grandchildren back. She called the state’s Director of Social Services. She wrote letters to the Governor. Finally, she convinced her tribe’s Council to threaten the state with kidnapping. A few weeks later, her grandchildren were returned…on a “trial basis.”
Since 2005, the Lakota People’s Law Project has been working with hundreds of families who share Janice’s story. But they haven’t all been so lucky. Over the past decade, the State Department of Social Services has taken more than 5,000 Native American children from their homes. It’s easy to see why—for every Lakota child in state-sponsored care, South Dakota receives thousands of dollars a year in federal monies.
What’s the good news? We can do something about it!
The Lakota People’s Law Project is currently compiling court-admissible evidence and preparing a federal civil rights action on behalf of South Dakota’s Native families. Recently, we helped Janice Howe host a forum to teach parents and relatives about their rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act. More than 160 Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota attended the meeting.
To be successful in this work, we need to build a chorus of support across the country. We hope that you will add your voice to this effort.
Please forward this email to your friends and share Janice’s story to help us grow a strong network of people who care.
Together, we can help the Lakota reclaim their rights and get their children back!
As we say in Lakota—pilamaya—thank you.
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Organizer and Tribal Liaison
* Each year, South Dakota removes an average of 700 Native American children from their homes. Indian children are less than 15 percent of state’s the child population, but make up more than half the children in foster care.
* Despite the Indian Child Welfare Act, which says Native American children must be placed with their family members, relatives, their tribes or other Native Americans, native children are more than twice as likely to be sent to foster care as children of other races, even in similar circumstances.
* Nearly 90 percent of Native American children sent to foster care in South Dakota are placed in non-native homes or group care.
* Less than 12 percent of Native American children in South Dakota foster care had been physically or sexually abused in their homes, below the national average. The state says parents have “neglected” their children, a subjective term. But tribe leaders tell NPR what social workers call neglect is often poverty; and sometimes native tradition.
* A close review of South Dakota’s budget shows that they receive almost $100 million a year to subsidize its foster care program.
This smacks so strongly not just of trying to get more money for the state but also of the way that the US has always tried to erase the culture of American Indians via their children: missionary schools, forbidding the language or religion to be practiced, and yes, removing children for ‘their welfare’.
So completely messed up.