This week National Geographic published an article called “In the Shadow of Wounded Knee.” It's a good article that shows many of the problems the Lakota people face on the reservations in South Dakota and also highlights the fact that, contrary to what many people believe, we are still practicing our traditions and following our values. My niece Olowan Thunder Hawk Martinez and my friend Alex White Plume speak in the article. Both of them talk about how 150 years of injustice against our people have led to the poverty, drug addiction, high suicide rate, and other challenges that the Lakota on Pine Ridge face.
But it is important to note that the article focuses only on the Pine Ridge reservation. This often happens when outsiders look at South Dakota. Pine Ridge is well known because of the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 and the American Indian Movement’s occupation there in 1973. But there are eight other reservations in South Dakota! The conditions on those reservations are the same as they are on Pine Ridge, and the injustice is nothing new. From ripping off land, to contaminating water resources, our people have been under fire for generations.
Today, one of the greatest threats to our people is the massive theft of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota children by state authorities. The state of South Dakota couldn’t have cared less about Native American children until there were millions to be had, and today the state receives almost $100 million per year from the federal government for foster care services — and $12,000 for each Indian child moved from foster care into adoption. The result: between 2001 – 2009 over 5,000 Native children were removed from their families, and, in direct violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 95% of them were put into white and state-run care. These actions tear at the fabric of our kinship society, cutting children off from their traditions and continuing the cycle of injustice.
Since 2006, I’ve served as the Tribal Liaison for the Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP). We are a nonprofit that uses law, public education, and grass roots organizing to fight the injustices perpetrated against our people. Right now, we are preparing to file a federal civil lawsuit to rescue our children, and we have an important window of opportunity.
Last fall, NPR aired “Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families,” a 3-part investigative report by Laura Sullivan that exposed the South Dakota Department of Social Services’ (DSS) unlawful actions. The series was heard by 28 million people worldwide and won a Peabody award. After the story aired, six members of the House of Representatives—four Democrats and two Republicans—sent letters to the assistant secretary for Indian affairs, Larry Echo Hawk. Their letters demanded that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) respond to the claims made by the NPR story and propose a plan to improve the situation in South Dakota. In response, Larry Echo Hawk sent a letter back to the congressmen pledging to hold a summit in South Dakota about Native American foster care. Nine months have passed and nothing has been done to keep that pledge.
Last week, the ICWA directors from all of South Dakota’s reservations met to prepare a request that the BIA host a summit, as promised. The Lakota People’s Law Project and I ask that you join us in supporting the ICWA Directors in their call for this summit and in our struggle to rescue our children! Please sign our petition to the BIA, and help us spread the word. If you have contacts who might help us, please bring them to our side. Our children are our future and we need all the help we can get to bring them home.
In Lakota, pilamaya—thank you,
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Grandmothers Suta Najin Pe (Standing Strong)
Tribal Liaison, Lakota People’s Law Project