The United States Department of Justice is now on the record saying that South Dakota is violating the Indian Child Welfare Act in its removal of Indian children from their homes. On Friday, Judge Jeffrey Viken accepted the DOJ's motion to submit an amicus brief in support of the Indian plaintiffs in Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik.
The federal brief affirms the position laid out by the ACLU that South Dakota has denied Indian parents due process in Pennington County's 48-hour custody hearings and illegally separated Indian children from their families and tribes:
DOJ’s brief emphasizes that the federal government has a “special relationship” with Indian tribes and Indian people, and that ICWA was passed by Congress to promote and further that relationship. ICWA places substantial limits on the ability of state officials to remove Indian children from their homes in order to protect the integrity of Indian families and the survival of Indian tribes. DOJ expressly criticized positions taken by the Defendants, one of which contended that the protections guaranteed in ICWA did not apply to their 48-hour hearings. The DOJ brief explains that, contrary to the State’s arguments, ICWA “immediately imposes specific ongoing obligations on state officials” in these 48-hour hearings [ACLU press release, via Lakota Voice, 2014.08.18].
The 24-page brief, signed along with the motion to file it by U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, says to South Dakota, This is what ICWA says, and you're reading it wrong. It explicitly and vigorously rejects South Dakota's contention that we can ignore ICWA in emergency custody hearings.
South Dakota's violation of Indian family rights under ICWA must be remarkable: ACLU attorney Stephen Pevar, who is helping the Lakota plaintiffs argue their case in Rapid City, says this may be the first time since ICWA was enacted in 1978 that the federal government has intervened in a case like this at the District Court level.
The Department of Justice's intervention in Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik makes clear who really stands on the side of Indian families in South Dakota. It's not the co-opted South Dakota Libertarian Party and its cast of clowns who would dismantle government and abandon Indians to assimilation. It's not fake attorney general candidate Chad Haber, who squawks about abuse in the foster care system to exploit Indian children to fill his campaign bank account and blow smoke in front of his and his wife's own corruption.
The real defenders of South Dakota's Indian families are good people who recognize the need for strong laws and strong government to protect due process and tribal integrity from racism and corruption. The real defenders are good people like U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, who signed DOJ's amicus brief and the motion to file it, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has the knowledge and resources to assist Indian families in this case.