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Native Sun News: Tribes fight to keep Indian children at home

Filed Under: Law | National
More on: cheyenne river sioux, icwa, native sun news, oglala sioux, south dakota

The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun News Associate Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe ICWA Director Diane Garreau said the Children's Emergency Shelter has proved invaluable to retain the tribe's children.

Juanita Scherich, Oglala Sioux Tribe ICWA director and OnTrac director, looks forward to the possibility of having a Children's Emergency Shelter on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Fighting to keep Native children at home
Foster children can be source of income
By Christina Rose
Native Sun News Associate Editor

Indian Child Welfare Act agencies on the South Dakota reservations are hoping the lawsuit filed against the state of South Dakota will bring attention to the miscarriage of justice that has continued for decades. The removal of Native children from their homes by Department of Social Services in Pennington County is considered by many involved with ICWA to be a tactic comparable to the boarding schools.

Oglala Sioux Tribe ICWA Director Juanita Scherich said that many of the cases they are dealing with are from tribal members whose domicile may be on Pine Ridge but have moved either to Minnehaha County or Pennington for jobs or housing. She said, “We are hoping to have the system changed but that won’t happen until the ruling, if it is in our favor.”

Scherich said from what she has seen, Native children who are fostered out can be a source of income for the families who take them in. Scherich visits the homes of foster families to check on the children and said that many of them are misusing these funds.

“The foster families receive money for our children,” Scherich said, adding that she believes those families are using the money to pay bills. “There is an economic incentive to take them,” she said.

According to Scherich, many of these foster families are in economic need. “A Native American child comes with a stipend and they are automatically designated as special needs. The families receive an additional bonus of about $350 per child. If they take in four children that’s times four. In South Dakota, 65% of the foster children are Native, so they are paying the bills with our kids. Even if we lose the suit, we wanted to raise awareness of this,” she said.

Scherich noted that Lakota values are taught over the children’s lifetime and when the children are removed, the family does not see them for 60 days. “This traumatizes the children terribly,” she said, adding that the majority of other states that call OnTrac about ICWA are more responsive about getting the children home than is South Dakota. “We have no faith in this system here, they have done this for so long, they are used to it. We have been battling the monster and the monster has been winning.”

For years before filing the lawsuit, ICWA agencies struggled to retain their children. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe ICWA Director Diane Garreau has worked at the Children’s Emergency Shelter for close to seven years. When she started, she saw hundreds if not thousands of children removed from the reservations each year. But since then, Garreau said that the efforts of the Cheyenne River tribe have begun to have an impact in their area.

Through CRST Children’s Emergency Shelter, ICWA has been able to keep the majority of the children on the reservation, even if a suitable foster family within the family or tribe can’t be found. “When I first started ten years ago the social service workers were not cooperative, but a lot of that has changed,” Garreau said.

Over the last seven or eight years, the CRST tribe has made a concerted effort to keep the children on the reservation through transferring the jurisdiction back from the state to the tribe. “We proved we know what we’re doing,” Garreau said.

While the shelter has proved invaluable to Cheyenne River, on Pine Ridge children have still been fostered out at astronomical rates. Oglala Sioux Tribal Attorney Bernice DeLorme said that in the last year in Pennington County Court alone, 700 kids, 90% of whom are Oglala, were removed from their homes by South Dakota DSS.

Like Cheyenne River, the Oglala Sioux Tribe is in the process of developing a shelter, with the hopes of being able to eventually provide 40 beds for children who might otherwise be placed in foster care. Over the years OST ICWA has been able to bring some children to the Cheyenne River Shelter. “The tribes are working together and we have all been taking in droves of kids; we are sharing resources. It is really important to have a Native shelter, the kids come in and call us auntie and grandma, and they aren't faced with culture shock,” on top of the trauma of being removed from their homes, Garreau said.

In Pine Ridge, Barbara Dull Knife said that ground for the new shelter was broken on June 8, 2012, but so far technicalities have kept the shelter from construction. “It’s not going to be up and running for a while,” she said. “We need startup money which we can’t get until there is a building, so we have to do some fundraising so we can open it up when it's done.”

Dull Knife said that there currently is a shelter for 13 to 18 year olds but nothing for babies or younger children. She and others are working with Sinte Gleska in Rosebud, where Dull Knife said, “They have a really nice shelter.”

The shelter is expected to start out with ten beds, but Dull Knife hopes they will have at least 10 beds for children whose parents have died and ten for emergency situations, and ultimately as many as 40 beds.

Staffing the shelter will be a challenge at first because they will not be eligible for grants until the shelter is well established. Dull Knife said they are looking for people to come in and help them for one or two years. “We are including our aunts who can take care of the kids. We are going to be culturally based. There are a lot of good things we have planned, and we will make sure it is beautiful. People have already volunteered the landscaping. It will be a place to come and enjoy yourself, where grandmothers will be coming in to tell stories.”

Barbara Dull knife, a second term council member, has two children and “five wonderful grandchildren who I love to death,” she said. Now retired from the US Attorney office where she was a victim witness advocate, she said, “I have always been interested in a shelter for the children. It is something you talk about and talk about, but we kept going because there is a need for it.”

(Contact Christina Rose at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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