South Dakota authorities quiet on ruling in landmark ICWA case

Indian children in South Dakota. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project / Facebook

When National Public Radio published an investigative series on the removal of Indian children from their homes in South Dakota, state officials objected loudly.

Even Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R), who once ran a company that had child welfare contracts with the state, jumped in. Their concerns prompted NPR to issue a second report that identified some flaws with the investigation.

But now that a federal judge has held that the state violated the Indian Child Welfare Act, officials are oddly quiet. The state attorney general's office declined to comment, telling the Associated Press it wasn't directly involved in the case even though the Department of Social Services is a defendant.

The department itself declined to comment to The Sioux Falls Argus Leader. And the attorney in Pennington County, where Indian children are removed at alarming rates during proceedings that last at little as 60 seconds, did not return the paper's calls.

Judge Jeff Davis, whose rulings kept Indian children away from their families in 100 percent of the cases brought before him, also declined to comment when contacted by the AP and the Argus Leader. The state defendants were found to have violated the rights of Indian parents and guardians who faced near impossible odds in trying to regain custody of their children.

"Judge Davis and the other defendants failed to protect Indian parents' fundamental rights to a fair hearing by not allowing them to present evidence to contradict the state's removal documents," Judge Jeffrey L. Viken wrote in a 45-page ruling issued late Monday.

"The defendants failed by not allowing the parents to confront and cross-examine DSS witnesses," Vitek continued. "The defendants failed by using documents as a basis for the court's decisions which were not provided to the parents and which were not received in evidence at the 48-hour hearings."

Vitek asked the state defendants to respond to his ruling by May 1, after which he plans to issue an injunction that will resolve the complaints raised by Indian families, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. The state could end up taking the case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Get the Story:
Judge: Indian kids wrongly taken from parents (The Sioux Falls Argus Leader 4/1)
Federal Judge Says South Dakota Officials Violated Native American Families' Rights (NPR 3/31)
Native American Tribes Win Child Welfare Case In South Dakota (WBAA 3/31)
Judge finds rights of Indians violated in custody case (AP 3/31)

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