Health | Law

WAER: ICWA matters handled in 'kangaroo courts' in South Dakota






Chase Iron Eyes of the Lakota People's Law Project leads protest for Indian children in Washington, D.C., in November 2013. Photo from Lakota People's Law Project / Facebook

The Department of Justice is siding with tribes in an Indian Child Welfare Act dispute in South Dakota:
It's the first time the department has intervened in a federal district court case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law meant to keep Native American families together. The department filed an amicus brief in the case concluding that the state is violating the rights of Native American parents.

In the suit, tribes claim the state is failing to abide by the 36-year-old federal law, removing hundreds of Indian children from their families in court hearings where parents are rarely allowed to speak, and that often last less than 60 seconds.

The children are then placed in foster care, where they may stay for months or years.

"It's disgraceful," says Stephen Pevar, who is a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, which has brought the suit along with the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes.

As part of the lawsuit, the state had to turn over rarely seen transcripts of 120 recent court hearings. In every one, the Native American children were taken into state custody.

Not a single parent was allowed to testify at the hearings. Most were not allowed to say anything except their names.

"These were virtually kangaroo courts," Pevar says. "There was nothing, nothing that any of the parents did or could have done. It was a predetermined outcome in every one of these cases."

Get the Story:
Justice Department Supports Native Americans In Child Welfare Case (WAER 8/29)

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Steven Pevar: Indian children are being taken from their homes (07/25)
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Tribes in South Dakota seek control over child welfare programs (06/27)
South Dakota judges ordered to explain stance in ICWA dispute (03/21)
Native Sun News: South Dakota judges balk at ICWA court order (3/20)