Indian families in South Dakota battle to keep children at home

Chase Iron Eyes of the Lakota People's Law Project leads a protest for Indian children in Washington, D.C., in November 2013. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project / Facebook

Indian families in South Dakota are battling state officials and state judges who are removing Indian children from their homes at alarming rates.

Of the children in foster care, 51 percent are American Indian or Alaska Native. Many are removed at hearings in state court that last just a few minutes.

“[The state of South Dakota] has instituted a system whereby they take long-term custody of Indian children based on allegations of neglect, sometimes abuse, without providing the parents a fair hearing,” attorney Dana Hanna told The Guardian. “The parents are simply not allowed to present any evidence on their own behalf in these hearings.”

Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 to slow the removal of Indian children from their tribal communities. But removal rates have actually increased since then, according to the Guardian.

The Department of Justice is supporting a lawsuit filed by Indian parents and guardians, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. The department is also monitoring ICWA cases around the country to determine where it is necessary to intervene.

Just last week, the Bureau of Indian Affairs published a long-overdue update to its ICWA guidelines. Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn singled out South Dakota as a state where the guidance is most needed.

"Kids are our future," Washburn said at the National Congress of American Indians winter session in Washington, D.C., last Tuesday. "They're the future leaders of our tribes and they are being taken from us."

Get the Story:
'We get the kids back': Native American grandmother fights to preserve families (The Guardian 3/2)

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