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Native Sun News: ICWA cases a big concern in South Dakota

The following story was written and reported by Evelyn Red Lodge. All content © Native Sun News.

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Councilman, Peter Lengkeek.

WASHINGTON, DC -- Earlier this month, “alarm and dismay” prompted two congressmen to tell the Department of the Interior they expect a report on alleged violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act by the State of South Dakota by the end of November.

Based on a widely broadcast radio report, the congressman and the National Congress of American Indians took swift actions.

National Public Radio conducted a year-long investigation after reading a Native Sun News report on Native children taken from their families by the Department of Social Services – in which Indian Child Welfare Act violations were alleged.

United States House of Representatives, Edward J. Markey (D) and Dan Boren (D), sent a letter of request for investigation to the Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Larry Echo Hawk,

According to the letter, “The NPR investigation reports that Indian children are being removed from their families [by the State of South Dakota] sometimes without cause, and in response to financial incentive.”

Further, “The NPR investigation found that while Indian children make up 15 percent of the population in South Dakota, over half of the children in foster care administered by the State are Indian.

What is more, the State is removing 700 Indian children every year from their homes, sometimes under ‘questionable circumstances,’ and failing to place these children with their relatives and tribes as required by the ICWA. As you know, the ICWA was passed in 1978 to combat precisely this problem.”

According to, when boarding schools “were phased out after World War II in the late 1940s and ‘50s, a concern arose over children who were supposedly being abused or neglected by Native parents. The Indian Adoption Project began in 1958, and by 1961, 2,300 children had been placed in foster or adoptive homes -- almost all with non-Indian families.

According to, “Congress passed ICWA in 1978, spurred on by evidence that 25 percent to 35 percent of all Indian children at that time were being removed from their families and placed in non-Native foster and adoptive homes. The law can be seen as an effort to end state and county child welfare policies and practices that Congress believed were devastating American Indian tribes.”

Aware of this information Markey and Boren stated, “If the information in the NPR article is accurate, it would appear that the State of South Dakota has failed not only to abide by the mandates of federal law but has also failed its Indian children, their families and their tribes by violating the letter and spirit of the ICWA.

That such removal [of Indian children] may be unjustified is distressing, but it is simply outrageous that Indian children are being placed in non-Indian homes or group care at an alarming rate – upwards of 90 percent end up in non-Indian care – and that South Dakota is removing children at almost three times the rate of other states for what appears to be profit.”

According to the NPR investigation, to which the letter alludes to, “A close review of South Dakota’s budget shows that they receive almost $100 million a year to subsidize its foster care program.”

One of those featured in the NPR investigation, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Councilman, Peter Lengkeek, told Native Sun News earlier this month he was in attendance at the National Congress of American Indians annual meeting – where he and others drafted an emergency resolution for the NCAI to present to the president.

While at the NCAI conference, he said, “Everyone here is running around with that NPR report. The people here are infuriated. You wouldn’t believe the support we have for that.”

Native Sun News reported last year the CCST council passed a resolution barring the State from taking any more children off the reservation and stating that DSS would be charged with kidnapping if they did.

Last week, Lengkeek told Native Sun News, “It’s like DSS has become more brazen since the NPR report. They removed three more children in the last three days. It’s not just a South Dakota issue, it’s a nationwide issue. The NCAI also want me to go testify with them when the resolution is given to the president in early December.”

The NCAI resolution states that the General Accountability Office conducted a study in 2005, wherein it was found that 32 states were out of compliance with the ICWA. Further, the study made recommendations to improve training within states as to “the implementation of ICWA, which was summarily rejected by DHHS [Department of Health and Human Services] in their response letter.”

The resolution also called for more “meaningful” federal oversight as to the ICWA. It further suggests, “That congress consider amendments to the ICWA including provisions that would permit challenges by tribal nations and parents based upon failure to comply with the placement preferences.”

The resolution explains that ICWA was passed “to protect Indian children’s cultural, emotional, and spiritual well-being.” Further, non-compliance with the ICWA “places these children at high risk of experiencing serious social problems.”

In reference to the reported $1 million the State of South Dakota receives each year for removal of tribal children, Lengkeek said, “We need that funding to come to the tribes so we can build our own foster homes and take care of our own. The funding comes from the Feds and goes to the states and that’s what gives them [DSS] the resources to come on to our reservation and look down their nose at us. And, force their way into our homes and go through our refrigerators and bedrooms.."

"Nobody can take care of our own better than we can. Especially, when it comes to the language and traditions," Lengkeek said. "What I’m pushing for is that funding to come directly to the tribes. That way we can build our own foster homes and employ our own people. And, if a child has to be removed from their home, the child will be there temporarily while we go into the household and teach the parents how to be parents.”

"This is a mess that the dominant society created,” he continued in reference to the boarding schools and Indian Adoption Project history. “They should be responsible for cleaning this mess up.”

(Contact Evelyn Red Lodge at

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