They come for the young ones.
Every morning, South Dakota’s Department of Social Services seize Lakota children with no warning.
Every afternoon, Lakota parents start looking for their children when they don’t return from school. The state claims that it does not have to immediately notify the family or tribe in the event of the seizure of a child. Many families don’t realize that their children can be taken without any notification. The vast majority of the Native children in South Dakota (over 95%) are taken from their families because of a culturally biased definition of “neglect”, which often translates into poverty.
Every evening, young Lakota foster children in state custody struggle to fall asleep away from their family.
Every day, Lakota grandparents and relatives are illegally denied a South Dakota foster license. In traditional Lakota culture, grandparents and other relatives always took care of the children, however, since South Dakota often denies foster licenses, relatives are not allowed to be the caretakers of these children. Some are told that their homes are too small or that there’s not enough hot water or appliances. Even if their homes are acceptable, grandparents are often told that they are too old or that they are disqualified because of a crime that may have been committed decades ago. No evidence is necessary for the Department of Social Services to reject placement with relatives, they often rely on rumors to rip families apart.
When most Lakota children wake up to for their 18th birthdays, it is more of dreaded date than a celebration. This is the time when those in foster care will exit the state system and be sent into the world with very little preparation or tools to be successful. By age 20, over 60% are homeless, in prison, or dead. Many Lakota foster children have also been prescribed a cocktail of psychiatric medication to “control” them, unfortunately, this leads to much more severe problems later in life. It becomes a struggle to get off of these drugs and make sense of their fractured world without family or community for support.
Sadly, this problem is not new. Lakota children have been taken from their families for more than 130 years. It began in the 1880s under a U.S. Government policy of forced assimilation: children as young as five years old were removed from their homes, shipped to boarding schools, and instructed in the ways of white culture with the official motto: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Today, a generation of children is once again losing its connection to its culture through state-sanctioned kidnapping under the auspices of the South Dakota Department of Social Services. Every year South Dakota blatantly violates the Indian Child Welfare Act by removing over 740 Native children from their families and community and putting into non-Native foster care.
We can do something about this! In 2005, the Lakota People’s Law Project was founded with a mission to end this tragedy and win the return of thousands of children that were illegally taken from their families and tribes by creating foster care for Lakota, by Lakota. The Lakota People’s Law Project is working with tribal leaders; emerging Lakota leaders; grassroots organizers; and federal officials in the Department of Justice, Department of Interior, and Health and Human Services to finally end this genocide and create the permanent solution of tribal sovereignty.
Three tribes in South Dakota (Oglala, Standing Rock, and Rosebud) have already obtained their Title IV-E Federal Planning Grants and are training and planning for the implementation of their own Child and Family Service Programs. When this process is complete, federal funding will be redirected to each of the tribes and away from the corrupt state.