In addition to writing to tell you about NPR's reporting today, we want you to know that our Lakota People’s Law Project has been preparing a campaign in response to the situation in South Dakota and the report’s findings. That campaign starts now! If you want, you can head straight to our website and sign your name on our petition to members of Congress. (Or, you can keep reading for more info.)
First, here’s a bit of background. The practice of taking Indian children is nothing new. It began in the 1880s under a US Government policy of forced assimilation: children as young as 5 years old were removed from their homes, shipped to boarding schools, and instructed in the ways of white culture. So many children were taken that the result was a cultural genocide. So in 1978 Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. The law is meant to keep Indian children in Indian families, and it was supposed to end practices aimed at assimilation. But today, a generation of children is once again losing its connection to its traditions and culture. This time, it’s through state-run foster care.
The report that the South Dakota’s ICWA directors submitted to Congress—“Reviewing the Facts: An Assessment of the Accuracy of NPR’s Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families”—impugns South Dakota’s Department of Social Services (DSS) for wantonly disregarding ICWA’s mandate that Indian children be kept with their extended families and tribes. It also exposes the fact that South Dakota is violating the law in large part to attract federal dollars into the state. The Lakota People’s Law Project provided technical assistance to the ICWA directors by helping to research and draft the report to Congress. And the document was eventually endorsed by seven South Dakota tribal councils that together represent 98% of enrolled tribal members in the state.
In short, here’s what we found.
* South Dakota’s DSS takes, on average, 742 Indian children into state-run care each year.
* 87% of those children are placed into non-Indian homes or group settings, even while dozens of licensed Native American foster homes in the state sit empty—all in direct violation of ICWA.
* These abuses of the law are motivated by racism…and by money: the federal government sends $100 million each year to South Dakota to support foster care and adoption programs, a huge percentage of the state’s expenditures. South Dakota classifies every single Indian child as special needs, meaning they receive an additional $2,000 per child per year. The state could turn all that money over to Indian families to support tribal members in taking care of their own. But they don’t.
If you want to take a look at the full report, you can head on over to our website. We also encourage you to tune in to NPR’s “All Things Considered” tomorrow when Peabody Award-winning journalist Laura Sullivan will air an in-depth broadcast about the ICWA directors’ report to Congress. Ms. Sullivan’s reporting on the subject has so far been superb.
Finally, we ask you to sign on to a letter to members of Congress asking them to go to South Dakota to hear from the Native American families that have been hurt by the state’s practices first-hand.
In the wake NPR’s first report on Native foster care in South Dakota in 2011, several members of the House (from both parties) sent letters to the Department of the Interior demanding accountability from South Dakota and action from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). But the state was non-cooperative and the BIA dragged its feet. Now, over a year later, a long overdue summit on Native Foster in South Dakota is in the works and tentatively scheduled for April. Two things helped make that happen:
1) Last year we gathered over 5,000 online signatures on a petition that we delivered to the BIA.
2) Congressmen like Ed Markey (D-MA) and Ben Lujan (D-NM) have continued to demand action.
It’s clear that pressure works. The best thing we can do to ensure that the voices of South Dakota’s Indian families are heard is to ask members of Congress to go to South Dakota to hear from them first-hand. So please, sign our letter to members of Congress! And share, like, tweet, forward, and shout from the rooftops until your friends do the same. A visit to South Dakota by lawmakers will place pressure on stakeholders to deal straight, and to get serious about solutions.
In Lakota, Pilayama—Thank you.
UPDATE: We just learned that the NPR story has been pushed back until tomorrow (Wednesday). Diary and title have been edited to reflect that change.