Tribal Leaders Summit panel talks child welfare

 

By Karee Magee, The Bismark Tribune

Sandra Bercier, interim director of the Native American Training Institute, said there is an acute need for Native American foster homes in both North and South Dakota.

Sandra Bercier, interim director of the Native American Training Institute, said there is an acute need for Native American foster homes in both North and South Dakota.

BISMARCK, N.D. — A panel at the Tribal Leaders Summit on Thursday addressed problems facing the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The mission of ICWA, first founded in 1978, is to keep or reunite Indian children with their families.

According to the National Indian Child Welfare Association’s description, the act was created in “response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies.”

According to panelists, the numbers of Indian children put in foster homes remains high.

The consensus among the panelists is that the obstacle facing implementation of child welfare programs on reservations is lack of funding.

Sandra Bercier, interim director of the Native American Training Institute, said that because the programs are underfunded, they also are understaffed.

It is also hard to find permanent employees, said Leander McDonald, chairman of the Spirit Lake Tribe.

Child welfare programs are the hardest place to work, Bercier said, because staff sometimes take children out of homes.

Another significant problem is the lack of foster homes and families on the reservations, she said. Indian children who are taken from their families will often end up in a non-native family instead.

“If you have room in your home, hook up wth Indian Child Welfare,” Bercier said. “If we want ICWA to work, we have to be the ones to drive that process.”

The tribal leaders from South Dakota, though, emphasized an issue specific to that state.

“The problem is that there was this systemic institution that incentivized the removal of Indian children,” said Chase Iron Eyes, tribal judge of Lakota People Law Project.

According to Iron Eyes, the state of South Dakota earns $60 million from the federal government for the placement of Indian children into foster care.

South Dakota has a system of 48 hour hearings. The parents are required to go to court within 48 hours after their children were taken away, according to Tom Disselhorst, attorney for United Tribes Technical College.

The timespan doesn’t give them a chance to find a lawyer, he said, and they often don’t know why their children have been removed.

B.J. Jones said that the majority of these situations in South Dakota have nothing to do with abuse or neglect, but more often it is because the parent committed a misdemeanor like forgetting their license while driving.

He said society criminalizes poverty and Indian mothers are now afraid to drive because, if they are stopped by the police, their child could be taken away.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe have filed a class action lawsuit against the state of South Dakota, and hope it will be part of the solution. They are accusing state officials of violating the Fifth Amendment by not providing opportunities for due process.

Due process includes that an attorney is required in court, which many Indian parents don’t have in the 48-hour hearings.

If the lawsuit reaches the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, it may require other states to change their policies as well, said Disselhorst.

Historic Federal Lawsuit Dealing with Removal of Indian Children Filed on Behalf of Lakota

Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents, http://www.nativenewsnetwork.com

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA – Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union Thursday filed a lawsuit on behalf of three American Indian parents, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Rosebud Sioux Tribe for the illegal removal of Indian children from American Indian families in the US District Court in Rapid City, South Dakota.

American Indian Parents LawsuitACLU and Tribal Leaders at Court House

The 39 page lawsuit pertains to the lack of adequate hearings when American Indian children are removed from their familial home.

In one case cited in the lawsuit, one custodial hearing lasted a mere 60 seconds. American Indian parents were not even allowed or permitted to see the court papers. The judge signed the documents to remove the children within in seconds.

The case has been in the making for months as American Civil Liberties Union attorneys reviewed the circumstances surrounding the procedures used in the Pennington Court system.

“This case is not about numbers, this case is about the procedural fairness,”

stated Stephen Pevar, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney.

“This lawsuit seeks to put an end to disgraceful and unlawful practices that unfortunately have been standard practice in Pennington County, South Dakota, for a long time.”

American Indian Parents LawsuitSigns say it all

Outside of the Andrew W. Bogue Federal Building in Rapid City, American Indians began to gather to protest shortly before 9:00 am. Facing brisk temperatures on the second day of spring that were in the low 20s, some 100 tribal members stood outside the federal building as the attorneys and Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan V. Brewer, Sr. went inside to file the lawsuit.

“This is the first step. Our children have been abused for far too long,”

stated President Brewer outside before he went into the federal building to file the lawsuit with American Civil Liberties Union attorneys.

“ This has to stop, we will not tolerate this any longer. Today is a historic day.”

People carried signs that read: “Protect our children from the state” and “No more exploitation of Indian children.”

Several tribal members were visibly upset as they took the microphone to tell their stories of how children were removed from their homes without due process by county or state of South Dakota officials.

Mary Black Bonnet, 38, a tribal citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, spoke about being removed from her family when she was only 18 months old and adopted by a non-Indian family and ended up in Niles, Michigan.

“I fought for 22 years to get back to my people. I kept telling myself, “I have to get away from these crazy people.” I wanted to get back to my people,”

referring to her natural, American Indian family. As she spoke, her daughter clung to her.

American Indian Parents LawsuitMary Black Bonnet – Rosebud Sioux

Some of the attendees discussed how the state of South Dakota and Pennington County officials have ignored the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA, that was passed by Congress in 1978 in response to the large number of American Indian children who removed from their homes in at disproportionate rates.

“This hits the heart of our tribe. With this lawsuit we want to see our rights that ICWA should guarantee to us. Pennington County is violating our rights,”

stated Juanita Scherich, ICWA director for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

“I had to witness the actual filing of this lawsuit. This is so historic,”

said Sheris Red Feather, whose son, Patrick, committed suicide while in the custody of the State of South Dakota when he was 15.

She went upstairs of the federal building to watch the filing of the lawsuit at the federal court by the lawyers and President Brewer.

Tribal Councilors Robin LaBeau and Robert Walters of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe attended the event to demonstrate the support of their Tribe to the lawsuit.

“We are here to support this lawsuit 100 percent. It comes down to our support of all Lakota children,”