"For years now, council members of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota have watched as the state's Department of Social Services removed children from the reservation and placed many of them in white foster homes, far from tribal lands. Many of the children were later adopted, losing their connection to their families and heritage.
"I've seen it firsthand," says Brandon Sazue, chairman of the Crow Creek tribe.
Sazue says the state has long overstepped its authority.
"That would be like United States going into a foreign country and saying, 'Hey, I'm taking your kid because of this or that,' " he said. "I mean, this is within the boundaries of the Crow Creek Sioux Indian reservation, and as far as I'm concerned, we are the government."
This week, officials from the Crow Creek Sioux Nation and seven other tribes in the state sent an extensive report to Congress accusing South Dakota of systematically violating the 35-year-old federal Indian Child Welfare Act. The federal law says that, with some exceptions, if the state removes a Native American child, the state must place that child with relatives, tribal members or other Native Americans.
The report, which the officials wrote with the help of the nonprofit Lakota People's Law Project, concludes that in many instances the state does not have the authority to remove native children from tribal land. When the state does have that authority, through a tribal court order or tribal council agreement, the report says the state is failing to place the majority of those children according to the law."
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