Tribes and families in South Dakota win big victory in ICWA case

From left to right: Carole Crazy Thunder-O’Rourke, Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice-Chairman Tom Poor Bear, ONTRAC Director Juanita Scherich, Valerie Janis, Lema Richards, ACLU attorney Stephan Pevar, William Chase and Rapid City attorney Dana Hanna attended a federal court hearing in an Indian Child Welfare Act case on March 5. Photo by Richie Richards / Native Sun News

Tribes and Indian families in South Dakota have won a major victory in an Indian Child Welfare Act case.

Native Americans represent nearly 9 percent of the state population. Yet 51 percent of children in the foster care system are American Indian or Alaska Native.

Many Indian children are removed at hearings in state court that last just as little as 60 seconds. Indian parents and guardians, along with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, challenged this and other practices in a case that they hope will lead to major changes in the state's child welfare system.

"Indian children, parents and tribes deserve better," Judge Jeffrey L. Viken stated simply in his 45-page ruling.

As part of the decision issued yesterday, Vitek ordered the state to comply with the ICWA. Among other requirements, he said the state must provide adequate notice to families prior to removal hearings, allow parents and guardians to testify and present evidence at the hearings and appoint attorneys for those who need them.

"Indian children are being removed from their homes without giving parents and tribes any valid chance to respond. These reckless practices have led to enormous suffering BY Indian children and their parents, and the unnecessary breakup of Indian families. This important ruling should help keep this from happening in the future," attorney Stephen Pevar of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a press release.

"All praise and honor should be given to those tribes and to the Lakota parents who have fought for the rights of all Indian people in this historic legal victory," added co-counsel Dana Hanna.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik.

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