Native Sun News: Crow Creek women fight state on foster care
The following story was written and reported by Evelyn Broecher. All content © Native Sun News.

Janice Howe FORT THOMPSON, SOUTH DAKOTA –– Two grandmothers, enrolled members of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, have stepped forward to tell their stories about the current mistreatment of their grandchildren while in non-Indian foster care.

In response to their complaints the Crow Creek council passed a resolution to disallow the state from taking any more children. Along with this resolution, the tribe passed another to cut the BIA contract that operated their court system. Acting judge, Teresa Maule, was immediately removed.

Janice Howe and Alexis Douville spoke of their grandchildren’s emotional and physical pain while fighting for their return.

Howe has four children in state custody since April. “My grandchildren were originally taken from their mother in July. The Social Service worker said it was because my daughter, the children’s mother, was going to be arrested. That has not happened and she will not be arrested. Later we found out DHS was acting on an anonymous tip from a white family,” Howe said.

In July, by email, Howe sent out this cry for help to several people including the Native Sun News. It read:

“Today my grandchildren are still in state custody. They have had their hair cut. The white people [DHS] of Chamberlain claim they know nothing about cutting their hair. They are made to eat soap if they speak their mind. My granddaughters’ gums were bleeding. Is this form of punishment from the 1800s?”

“No charges have ever been filed against my daughter, but the state still has custody of my grandchildren. I’m putting this out in cyber world hoping and praying someone would have an answer for me. My name is Janice Howe, and my heart has been broken. I know it’s wrong, please help!”

From the time Howe first contacted Native Sun News in April, she has been working furiously on tribal and state levels. “The social worker that was in charge of this case was let go from her position in Chamberlain. This kidnapping the children from their homes should never have happened. I want my daughter’s children returned as soon as possible,” Howe said.

Sioux Falls grandmother, Alexis Douville, called Native Sun News yesterday to report her four-year-old grandson’s hand somehow went through a glass window while in white foster care. “This happened back in May or so, and I am just finding out about it, now. His eye was injured by the glass and he has a healing gash on his wrist. When I asked him about it he just said “Pain is pain.” Douville explained.

Three of Douville’s grandchildren are in this foster home and all are under the age of seven. Douville reports the older female grandchild continually says the older girl of the foster family constantly picks on the four-year-old, and the foster family does not protect him.

Douville claims she was denied kinship care of the children. She explained, “In one hour the state social worker made the decision. She must be an experienced financial advisor, grief counselor, and psychologist or something,” said Douville.

“I was denied based on my income and something from my past involving alcohol. They also said I was unstable because of the loss of my son. If they would have asked my grandchildren if they have ever seen me drink, they would have told them no,” Douville explained.

David Valandra, Indian Child Welfare Act Specialist, sent a letter to the presiding judge in this case. In it he disagreed with the case worker’s home-study of Douville. He stated, “I have never yet seen a grandmother let her grandchildren go hungry, unclothed, or have a safe place to sleep.”

He also expressed that Douville’s alcohol use is in her past. He also acknowledged Douville is grieving, but suggested this is a normal process she is going through.

Douville said she wonders why the state spends so much money on traumatizing the children by removal instead of spending money on keeping them within the their culture and family. Douville asked, “Isn’t ICWA supposed to do that?” She claims her grandchildren are currently in the pre-adoption phase.

It is unclear at this point if the tribal resolutions can also be applied to Native families living off-reservation.

With the passing of the two resolutions, CCST has begun asserting its tribal authority in DHS matters.

In early October, council members unanimously voted court services are to be provided only by the tribe, and not by the BIA.

In late October, the council unanimously passed a resolution with regard to the removal of children from the reservation with three stipulations: “Emergency placement initiated by either the state, tribe, or Bureau of Social Services has to be assigned to our parents here on the Crow Creek Reservation. All services must be provided on the reservation directed by the BIA and IHS. Before any enrolled member is removed from the reservation, they must have the Chairman’s signature. If not, you will be charged with kidnapping.”

Howe hopes these resolutions will help stop other children from being removed from the reservation. A hearing is scheduled for the return of the children to their mother, today. The result of the hearing was not available at press-time.

Peter Lengkeek, a member of the Crow Creek Tribal Council, has been working on what he calls “loopholes in the ICWA laws.” In discussion with social services, he discovered the base of the problem lies with the “ICWA program itself, the previous tribal court, and the prior tribal council.”

“I am tired of the state stepping on us. They think they can come on to the reservation and do whatever they want like the taking our children without exhausting all resources. I want to go on record saying we’re tired of the state pushing us around. “I, for one, am not going to take it anymore,” Lengkeek added.

From 1958 to 1969 the Indian Adoption Project was in full swing. It was later estimated 25 percent of all Native children were adopted to mainly white/Christian families around the country. Native peoples of the United States expressed their outrage over this, and finally in 1978 the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed. By the passing of this act, congress recognized American Indian children need their culture, language, traditions, and their own people.

(Contact Evelyn Broecher at: