On Tuesday, Judge Jeffrey Viken ruled in favor of the Oglala and Rosebud Sioux Tribes and three individual Lakota plaintiffs fighting the state of South Dakota's practice of taking Indian children from their parents:

"We are thrilled that the court has recognized the importance of these issues to Indian parents and Indian tribes," said Heather Smith, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota.

The plaintiffs claim some child custody hearings are barely 60 seconds long. Parents are not allowed to see the petition used to take their children, nor are they given a chance to introduce evidence that they can take care of their children, all of which they say violates the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

"We shouldn't forget that it's all about due process," Hanna said. "The state's going to give you a fair hearing before they take your kids" [Andrea J. Cook, "Native American Child Custody Lawsuit Advances," Rapid City Journal, 2014.01.30].

The defendants—South Dakota Social Services Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon and employee LuAnn Van Hunnik, Pennington County State's Attorney Mark A. Vargo and 7th Circuit Judge Jeff Davis—wanted Judge Viken to dismiss the suit for several reasons. Among other arguments, the defendants contended that the tribes lacked standing in this suit because tribes are not "persons" under the Indian Child Welfare Act, suffer no redressable injury, and are acting in the interest of only those tribal members with children rather than "all" members of the tribe.

(Hmm... if I were the state of South Dakota or any official thereof, I really wouldn't want to go on the record declaring that the tribes aren't people. But let's not get bogged down in wordplay.)

Judge Viken upheld the tribes' standing to challenge South Dakota's ICWA's non-compliance:

The purpose of ICWA, as declared by Congress, is to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families . . . .” 25 U.S.C. § 1902. Congress specifically found “that there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of the Indian tribes than their children . . . .” 25 U.S.C. § 1901(3) [Judge Jeffrey Viken, ruling, Oglala, Rosebud, et al. vs. Hunnik et al., 2014.01.28].

Judge Viken's ruling is significant because it allows the tribes, the ACLU, and aggrieved Lakota parents as a class to continue pressing a case that addresses one of the core questions raised in reporting by NPR's Laura Sullivan: is South Dakota waging war against American Indian tribes by tearing their families apart, in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act? The answer to that question has enormous bearing on the fight for justice and equality for our Lakota neighbors. It may also have enormous bearing on the officials who have overseen South Dakota's actions under ICWA and who face re-election this fall.