Will Keystone XL Pipeline Pump Sexual Violence Into South Dakota?

The human devastation wrought by the economic energy boom in the Great Plains region may get worse for Native women. This nightmare, according to Keith Darling-Berkus has created a culture of misogyny in which sexual violence—including rape, sex trafficking and domestic assault—are normalized. It has been described as “a male-dominated dystopian nightmare.”

That description is especially ominous for Native women, who are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than women of other races. The perpetrators of this violence are overwhelmingly non-Native.

Native advocates are predicting a similar fallout for women in South Dakota if the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline is approved. TransCanada plans to house pipeline construction workers in three rural man-camps located close to reservations in South Dakota. Each camp will house approximately 1,000 workers.

Both law enforcement officials and native and women’s rights advocates cite the emergence of these ‘man-camps’—temporary housing for transient workers—as major contributors to a rise in violence against all women wherever they are established.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, Kevin Koliner, Native women comprise 40 percent of sex trafficking victims in the state.

Although some research links the recent oil boom to the emergence of a culture of misogyny in North Dakota, Native-women advocates maintain that the Great Plains of North and South Dakota present fertile ground for such a culture to take hold. They note, for instance, that South Dakota is considered by some men to be a sex tourism destination.

“They come in the fall for pheasant hunting season and in summer for the Sturgis Bike Rally,” says Susan Omanson, executive director of BeFree58 Ministries, a non-profit in Sioux Falls serving survivors of sex trafficking.

Sexual violence, including prostitution and trafficking, are firmly imbedded in the culture and economy of South Dakota .

“Pheasant hunting and the bike rally are economic sacred cows in South Dakota and few residents will dare criticize the industries for fear of losing that influx of cash,” notes Chamberlin, South Dakota-based journalist Maria Burch who has covered the area’s economy for several years. “Most folks around here have to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. The income from hunting is very important.”

Revenue from pheasant hunting and the Sturgis Bike Rally represent a significant portion of income for many residents. In Tripp County alone, a popular destination for pheasant hunting, hunters spent copy1.3 million in 2011, according to South Dakota Game Fish and Wildlife Agency. Overall, the state agency reports that hunting pumps $66 million into the state. According to a survey conducted by the Sturgis Rally Department, the overall economic impact of the annual motorcycle rally was over $800 million in 2012.

Although most hunters and bikers in the area are well-behaved, there is a dark side to both those activities, according to U. S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, who says, “Wherever you have a large gathering of men, you have a strong opportunity for prostitution and sex trafficking.”

Advocates for victims of trafficking and prostitution note that there is a strange allure in South Dakota for those looking to purchase commercial sex. “There is a wild west, lawless atmosphere that attracts some visitors to our state,” says Burch. “Not much has really been done to discourage that perception.”

Carmen O’Leary, executive director for the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, adds that long-standing prejudice against Native people in the Dakotas contributes to a laissez-faire attitude by the public and law enforcement when it comes to pursuing perpetrators of sex crimes against Native women.

Not surprisingly, she says, the safety of Native women doesn’t figure very prominently in economic development projects in the region.

Although the proposed pipeline promises a huge economic boost for the state, South Dakota is totally unprepared for the hidden social and human costs, says Faith Spotted Eagle, Ihanktunwan (Yankton) and member of the Brave Heart Society. She and other pipeline opponents point to the impact of man camps and boomtown mentality on women in the Bakken oil region of North Dakota.

“The attitude [in the Dakotas] seems to be that the lives of a few Indian women are a small price to pay for economics,” says an advocate who asked not to be identified for fear of negative reaction from her board of directors.

In 2013, The Polaris Project, a non-profit organization combating sex trafficking, ranked South Dakota last in the U.S. in its efforts to enact a basic legal framework to combat trafficking.

Arrests for sex trafficking in South Dakota have overwhelmingly been prosecuted under the federal trafficking law. U.S. Attorney Johnson has made the prosecution of these crimes a priority. After an undercover operation during the 2013 Sturgis Bike Rally, his office prosecuted nine men for sex trafficking. Victims ranged from 12 to 15 years of age.

South Dakota passed a law specifically outlawing human trafficking in 2011. In Sioux Falls, one person has been charged under the state law so far, according to Sam Clemons, Public Information officer for the Sioux Falls Police Department. The dearth of law enforcement in much of rural South Dakota only adds to the problem, notes Burch. “Police are spread pretty thin out here,” she says. She thinks that encourages a sense of impunity in men looking to purchase sex. Burch says some of the patrons of the ultra-expensive hunting lodges come to the area with an outsized sense of entitlement.

Nancy Niles of the Oglala Lakota tribe and former resident of Sturgis agrees that tourism promoters often sell South Dakota with romanticized notions of the Wild West associated with the gold rush and pioneer days, where anything goes. “Prostitution at the rally has become normalized,” she says.

Niles lived in Sturgis for 25 years and raised her family there. During that time she says she watched her country town turn into a thick clot of leather and t-shirt shops, strip clubs and a main street that allows public drinking. Commercial sex workers are brought into the city for the rally, according to Niles.

“People got angry with me when I began to call attention to the prostitution that takes place during the rally,” she says. “People prefer to keep their heads in the sand in order to protect the economic injection that the rally brings.”

The hard-partying, anything-goes atmosphere creates a hostile environment for all women in the area.

Niles and her husband recently moved to Nebraska for their retirement. “I could no longer stand to let my taxes go to support this kind of activity,” she says.

Man camps versus tourism

The male tourists who can afford to stay at an upscale, all-inclusive hunting lodge or bring their bikes on extended visits to the bike rally represent a different demographic than those who will be drawn to work on the Keystone pipeline and live in man camps.

“A lot of these guys who come here to work and live in the man camps are on their last dime. They don’t have a whole lot to lose,” notes Sadie Young Bird, executive director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition Against Violence in North Dakota. Indeed, ABC News recently aired a story calling attention to the large increase of registered sex offenders who have relocated to the Bakken oil region.

Marla Bull Bear, executive director of the Native American Advocacy Program in Winner worries about the close proximity of the proposed man-camp in Colume, 10 miles from Winner. Winner is the town closest to the Rosebud Reservation and has a substantial Native population.

Bull Bear’s organization conducts activities designed to divert youth toward healthy traditional Native ways such as a horse camps and coming of age ceremonies.“ Due to poverty and family dysfunction, many of our youth are so vulnerable. They could present easy targets for sex traffickers,” she says.

“Youth in our groups tell us about girls who simply disappear and end up working in the commercial sex industry. Sex trafficking is already here,” she notes.

Jess Keesis, the mayor of Winner, knows first-hand about the rowdy tendencies of men who work in the oil fields, but he believes the camps that will house the pipeline workers will be different. “I’ve worked in the Alaska oil fields and seen oil booms–this won’t be anything like that,” he says.

According to Keesis, the pipeline construction will be far more short-lived than an oil boom and won’t have long-term negative effects on the community. He estimates that it will take about 14 months to complete the pipeline.

Faith Spotted Eagle, however, describes this attitude as terribly shortsighted. “If a woman is brutalized by a pipeline worker, you are talking about a lifetime of impact.”

She bemoans the sense of powerlessness expressed by communities that will be affected by the pipeline. “The average person thinks they can’t stand up to TransCanada. We have internalized this economic-predator thinking that resembles Stockholm syndrome. Since we feel powerless about corporations taking over our communities, we end up siding with these predators.”

For Spotted Eagle, women who suffer from the fallout of economies such as oil are more than unavoidable externalities. “These women have names; they are our sisters, our daughters, our mothers.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/27/will-keystone-xl-pipeline-pump-sexual-violence-south-dakota-153280

NCAI Prez Demands New Farm Bill After Blizzard That Killed 100,000 Animals

Christina RoseDead cattle await burial on the Pine Ridge Reservation after the record-breaking, rogue blizzard that hit South Dakota in early October. Newly elected NCAI President Brian Cladoosby is urging Congress to pass the stalled farm bill, which would help aid those who lost livestock in the disaster.

Christina Rose
Dead cattle await burial on the Pine Ridge Reservation after the record-breaking, rogue blizzard that hit South Dakota in early October. Newly elected NCAI President Brian Cladoosby is urging Congress to pass the stalled farm bill, which would help aid those who lost livestock in the disaster.

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

Fresh from his election as the 21st president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Brian Cladoosby has made it a priority to get aid for tribal members whose homes or livestock were wiped out by the record-breaking, early-season blizzard that devastated South Dakota and the Pine Ridge Reservation earlier this month.

RELATED: Brian Cladoosby Is President of the National Congress of American Indians

The government may have reopened, but in the wake of its 16-day shutdown, a key farm bill still languishes that would provide assistance to ranchers and landowners who lost millions when 100,000 cows, horses and other animals died in the blizzard, many of them on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

RELATED: Entombed in Snow: Up to 100,000 Cattle Perished Where They Stood in Rogue South Dakota Blizzard

“As I begin my term, my thoughts and prayers are with the South Dakota tribes,” Cladoosby said in a statement, his first since being elected on October 17. “The Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes have been devastated by the recent storm that swept the Great Plains—and the federal government failed, again, to maintain treaty agreements that ensure disaster relief is provided when citizens are in distress. When the federal government neglects citizens in times of emergency, the effects can be long term.”

One of the bill’s provisions would be to make disaster relief available under the Livestock Indemnity Program, which would pay ranchers part of the animals’ market value, Reuters reported on October 8. The deadline to extend the 2008 farm bill was October 1—the very day that the government stopped working. Now the government is back in business, but a vote has yet to be held.

Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are scheduled to meet next week to try and reconcile their respective versions of the bill, according to the Billings Gazette. It had already been stalled for months before the shutdown.

During the shutdown, livestock producers could not file the paperwork on their losses with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Agency, Reuters said. All that state and tribal authorities could do was tell them to carefully document the losses as they buried their cattle and horses in mass graves.

RELATED: The Government Shutdown Hits Indian Country Hard on Many Fronts

Cladoosby, who is also chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, said thresholds for assistance should be lowered for federal tribal disaster assistance and urged Congress to make Native issues a priority in the “post-shutdown calendar.”

Collapsing homes and widespread livestock losses are just the beginning, Cladoosby said, since the damage will cause tribal ranchers and farmers in South Dakota for years “as they will now have to rebuild their livelihoods from scratch.”

The first step, he said, should be to pass the farm bill.

“Allowing the current Farm Bill to lapse without action, coupled with the government shutdown, meant that support systems at the Department of Agriculture were unavailable to Native farmers and ranchers during this terrible storm,” Cladoosby said.

“Congress must pass a Farm Bill that will support tribal nations and others around the country who are in dire straits and it must keep nutrition programs with farm policies because there should never be a disconnect between food production and feeding people,” he said. “Congress must act immediately to provide rapid recovery for our tribes and work to ensure that political gamesmanship and inactivity does not harm Native peoples again.”

Help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can go only so far, even with the Stafford Act allowing tribes to apply in their own right, Cladoosby said, because aid doesn’t kick in at the amounts of money that people make, and lost in the disaster. The dollar amount triggering aid eligibility needs to be lower, he said.

“The high monetary damages threshold hampers impoverished areas because what is lost by low-income citizens often does not meet the required amount,” Cladoosby said. “The federal government has a fiduciary duty to protect tribal citizens, but without changes to the threshold, tribal citizens will continue to suffer from the consequences of disasters.”

He added the lack of action not only violated treaty and sovereignty rights but also cut off food supply to many tribal members.

“These failures of Congress prolong the claims process and inhibit Native food production and economic development,” Cladoosby said. “Further, with no Farm Bill and the lack of government funding for food assistance programs, many tribal citizens were left without access to food all while these vital programs are used as political bargaining chips. No one—especially our tribal citizens most in need—should ever have to go without food while being used as pawns in the lawmaking process.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/10/27/cladoosby-demands-end-farm-bill-gridlock-help-tribes-wake-blizzard-killed-100000-animals

Federal judge dismisses SD early voting lawsuit




AUGUST 6, 2013


PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to ensure that residents of part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation have the same access to early voting as people in other South Dakota counties.

U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier dismissed the lawsuit after finding that state and local officials have agreed to provide an in-person absentee voting station in Shannon County for the 2014, 2016 and 2018 election cycles.

The judge said she couldn’t proceed to consider the case because no one knows whether election laws or other conditions will change after the 2018 election.

Shannon County, which is part of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, has no courthouse, and it contracts with nearby Fall River County for some services, including elections. Twenty-five residents of Shannon County filed a lawsuit in early 2012 seeking to get the same 46 days of early voting as residents of other counties. Without a voting station in Shannon County, county residents would have had to travel nearly an hour or more to cast in-person absentee ballots at the Fall River County courthouse.

After the lawsuit was filed, state and local officials set up an in-person absentee voting station in Pine Ridge village for last year’s primary and general election. Those officials later pledged to use federal voting assistance funds to operate an early voting station in Pine Ridge through the 2018 election.

Those who filed the lawsuit criticized the judge’s dismissal of their case, saying there is no guarantee that early voting will be offered in Pine Ridge after 2018. They sought a court order permanently ordering the state to provide early voting in Shannon County.

But Schreier noted that no one knows whether election laws will change by 2020, whether federal funding will continue to be available for the early voting station, or whether Shannon County will continue contracting with Fall River County for election services. In addition, there is no substantial proof of impending harm to Shannon County voters, she said.

“For the court to adjudicate this claim now would amount to an advisory opinion based on assumptions and speculation,” Schreier wrote.

Attorneys for the state and the Shannon County residents did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Governor, tribal president talk for just 2 minutes

By KEVIN ABOUREZK / Lincoln Journal Star

July 8th 2013

Not many problems can be solved in two minutes.

And that includes the situation in Whiteclay.

Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer of South Dakota and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman had planned for weeks to get together Monday morning to try to address alcohol sales in Whiteclay and alcoholism on the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

But the meeting ended after fewer than three minutes, and the governor’s office and Brewer later traded barbs over whose fault that was.

“I feel very bad that I came down here to talk with him for a couple minutes,” Brewer said. “He didn’t want to talk to me.”

The tribal leader said he walked out because Heineman was aggressive and said Brewer violated the governor’s request to meet without media involvement. He said the governor had asked him

Bryan Brewer, president of South Dakota's Oglala Sioux Tribe, speaks Monday after meeting with Gov. Dave Heineman to discuss his concerns about alcohol sales in the Nebraska town of Whiteclay that borders South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.NATI HARNIK/The Associated Press

Bryan Brewer, president of South Dakota’s Oglala Sioux Tribe, speaks Monday after meeting with Gov. Dave Heineman to discuss his concerns about alcohol sales in the Nebraska town of Whiteclay that borders South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
NATI HARNIK/The Associated Press

to not speak to the media before their meeting.

However, both Brewer and Heineman spoke to reporters in the days and hours leading up to their meeting. Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Wang said Brewer was the one who originally had requested a closed meeting with no media present.

“The governor was happy to accommodate that,” she said.

Brewer said the governor was especially angry about a news release that appeared Sunday saying the governor had received $96,000 in contributions from the liquor industry and charged that illegal alcohol activity and bootlegging in Whiteclay have not been stopped because of financial contributions to him and other Nebraska politicians from Anheuser-Busch, distributors and alcohol trade associations.

A spokesman for Alcohol Justice — a California-based, self-described watchdog of the liquor industry — cited the National Institute on Money in State Politics as its source. The institute describes itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit that seeks to reveal the influence of campaign money on politicians.

“He verbally attacked me,” Brewer said. “I didn’t write that article. I don’t know why he’s mad at me.”

Wang said the governor has not been influenced by any campaign contributions from liquor industry representatives.

“That’s absolutely false, and it’s completely inappropriate,” she said.

She said the governor had set aside an hour to spend with Brewer and had invited Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann, Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent Col. David Sankey, Chief of Staff Larry Bare and the governor’s policy adviser to attend.

Wang said Brewer made it clear he didn’t plan to stay long and have a serious conversation about the problem of alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

At a news conference Monday morning before the meeting, Heineman said the state of Nebraska has no legal way to shut down beer stores in Whiteclay as long as those stores follow the law. And, he said, it is Brewer’s responsibility to address the underlying problem that has led to rampant alcohol sales there.

“As the leader of his tribe, he’s got to put a focus on treatment and education relative to alcohol abuse,” Heineman said.

Brewer refused to take responsibility for his people’s actions, Wang said.

“The governor remained at the table and was hopeful to have an open and honest conversation about some of the difficulties surrounding this issue,” Wang said. “I would just call it an unfortunate situation.”

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council voted last month to hold a reservation-wide referendum this fall on whether to legalize alcohol on the Pine Ridge. Asked whether he supports that, Heineman declined to offer an opinion.

“I think that’s up to them to decide,” he said.

Brewer said he doesn’t want to see his tribe legalize alcohol but that he would do his best to regulate alcohol sales if tribal members vote yes.

He said he met earlier Monday with Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who offered to assist the Oglala Sioux Tribe address alcohol sales in Whiteclay.

Brewer said he had hoped to talk to Heineman about re-creating an alcohol-free buffer zone south of the reservation that existed for more than 20 years until 1904. He said he also hoped to discuss making Whiteclay a national historic place to honor a massive sun dance that occurred there decades ago. Such a designation could force the beer stores to close, he said.

“I will continue working with the state of Nebraska,” he said. “I’ll refuse to deal with (Heineman) in the future.”

Brewer said he would like to be able to offer more treatment services to tribal members, but the tribe lacks the funding to do so. It has one treatment center with only seven beds, he said.

“I have to come up with the money somehow,” he said. “Our people are dying up there.”

During a news conference outside the State Office Building by activists after the meeting between Heineman and Brewer, Winnebago activist Frank LaMere said the governor clearly failed to show Brewer the respect he deserved as the leader of a sovereign nation.

“President, I apologize for our Nebraska governor,” he said. “I apologize for the way you were treated today.

“That to me is shameful.”

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

The Bison Miracle: New Museum Tells Story of a Genocide Thwarted

Indian Country Today Media Network

Despite efforts by the U.S. government to exterminate the bison as a way to exterminate the Indian, the bison persists, if fragily. Now, a museum devoted to the great animal is open in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The Museum of the American Bison and Great Plains Center is dedicated to telling one of the most captivating stories in our nation’s history – the amazing survival of the American bison. While a sad saga of greed and profiteering that changed the lives and traditions of people over a century ago, the story of the bison today is one of hope and resiliency.

The Museum of the American Bison is a non-profit organization run by a volunteer Board of Directors consisting of community members with history and wildlife conservation backgrounds.The museum charges no admission fee.

For more information on the museum, go to BisonMuseum.org.


Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/24/bison-miracle-new-museum-tells-story-genocide-thwarted-150069

Naughty names nixed on Pine Ridge reservation

SD panel: Offensive titles given to geographic features should go.

By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press

Published April 06, 2013, 07:49 AM in the Daily Republic


PIERRE — A South Dakota panel charged with scrubbing the state of offensive place names has recommended that two creeks, a dam and two other geographical features on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation be renamed to reflect the area’s traditional use for deer hunting.

The state Board on Geographic Names is proposing that the locations — all of which feature a variation of the phrase “Squaw Humper” — get new names in the Lakota language. For example, Squaw Humper Creek would instead be Tahc’a Okute Wakpa, which translates to Deer Hunting Ground Creek.

The names were suggested by Oglala Sioux tribal officials at a March 28 hearing on the reservation.

The state Board on Geographic Names will seek public comment on the proposed names before taking a final vote in June.

The names then would be submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which has the final say on naming places.

The renaming of the five features in northwestern Shannon County is the second case in which the state board has used a new process aimed at increasing public involvement in changing offensive names for places, mostly features that use the terms “Negro” or “Squaw” but are so small they do not appear on most maps. The board recently recommended that Negro Creek in Meade County be renamed Howe’s Creek because it’s near the community of Howes.

The board’s chairman, state Secretary of Tribal Relations J.R. LaPlante, said the panel is grateful for the grassroots effort by historian Wilmer Mesteth and other officials of the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Historic Preservation Office to find culturally appropriate replacement names.

“Really, we were just ecstatic as a board to see the involvement. And of course, the names being recommended were in the original native tongue. It was just an exciting day for us,” LaPlante said.

Joyce Whiting, project review officer for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, said she is happy the state board accepted the Lakota names proposed for the creeks and other features.

“Years ago, all the names — all the creeks, the buttes, everything — they were in Lakota,” Whiting said.

“It’s something for me to witness this and to be a part of it.”

The features being renamed apparently got their original names because a man lived in the area with two American Indian women, Whiting said.

The 2001 South Dakota Legislature passed a law to start eliminating offensive names, and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has since changed the names of 20 places in the state.

Another state law passed in 2009 listed 15 names that hadn’t been changed and created the new state board to tackle the job.

However, the federal board has deferred action on some name changes, partly because it said the state had not sufficiently involved the public in renaming geographic features.

Next, the state board will seek new names for some places in Custer County, located in the southwestern corner of the state.

Whiting said tribal officials also would like to see something done about places with names that do not meet the official definition of offensive, but bother American Indians. Some places named for military officers sent to the area to subdue American Indians more than a century ago should also be known by their Lakota names, she said.

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,”