Last updated on 2014.02.05
Last week Judge Jeffrey Viken ruled that the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes and three individual Lakota plaintiffs may move forward with their lawsuit against state and local officials in South Dakota for alleged violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Lakota parents contend that South Dakota has systematically ripped apart Indian families and placed far too many Lakota children in non-Indian foster families.
Such abuses may not be limited to South Dakota. Yesterday the National Indian Child Welfare Association sent a letter to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division calling for an investigation of ICWA violations in private adoptions and public child welfare systems nationwide. The text of the letter, signed by directors of four leading Native American advocacy groups, does not mention South Dakota specifically, but the footnotes include well-known reports about ICWA violations in our sometimes unfair state.
The letter asserts the good ICWA has done and the ills states do to tribes when they ignore this federal law:
...ICWA halted what was for some communities the wholesale removal of Indian children from their family, culture, and community. There is no question that where ICWA is applied, it has been intergral to keeping countless Native American families together. ICWA is not just considered good practice for AI/AN [American Indian/Alaska Native] children by experts and practitioners alike, but the principles and processes it embodies were recently described as the "gold standard" for child welfare practice generally.
...Non-compliance with ICWA harms children. Attorneys, social workers, and judges cannot, and should not, ignore deferal law and the civil rights of AI/AN children, parents, and families. When ICWA is not followed, the cultural bias and prejudice present in the child welfare system goes unchecked. When ICWA is not followed, AI/AN children's connection to their families, their communities, and their culture is severed. When ICWA is not followed, AI/AN children are subject to familiar disruption, cultural discontinuity, and extreme post-traumatic stress that is unwarranted and avoidable. When ICWA is not followed, tribes lost citizens, and with them, the ability to keep their traditions, practices, and culture alive. Without federal oversight, patterns of non-compliance and poor implementation will continue [Terry L. Cross, National Indian Child Welfare Association, et al., letter to Jocelyn Samuels and Eve L. Hill, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 2014.02.03].
NICWA and its fellow organizations are speaking of the same community-destroying evils that Judge Viken cited in his ruling last week to recognize the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes' standing to fight in court for their member-parents' rights. They speak of the same cultural forces that our ancestors used against the tribes as we seized this land and tore tribes apart by sending their children to far-off boarding schools.
South Dakota's leaders should diligently stamp out any such tribe-destroying practices in its foster care and adoption system. And if South Dakota's leaders will not do so, we must hope the Department of Justice will heed NICWA's call to investigate and support consisten enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act.