Law | Opinion

Eric Hannel: South Dakota county removes Indian children at an alarming rate






The Pennington County courthouse is located in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo: Jimmy Emerson

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 was supposed to stop the removal of Indian children from their communities but researcher Eric Hannel finds that one county in South Dakota is still flouting the federal law decades later:
One might be surprised to know that the removal of Indian children from their families is still going strong, seemingly unabated. For example, in Pennington County, South Dakota, the state has removed more than 1,000 children from their Native American families since 2010. A 2013 class action lawsuit and a 2015 validation by Chief Federal District Court Judge Jeffrey L. Viken revealed that Pennington County officials were not only removing the Indian children “on grounds not based on evidence,” but holding hearings in state court within 48 hours of removal and denying parents access to legal counsel, the right to testify, or notice of why their Indian children were taken. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the hearings lasted [from] 60 seconds up to five minutes, “and the state won 100 percent of the time.”

In his 2015 ruling, Chief Judge Viken ordered the state to take corrective actions, which they promptly ignored. In a December 2016 compliance hearing, Viken noted South Dakota’s lack of action in addressing the concerns expressed in his 2015 ruling that included violations of federal law and federal regulations (ICWA) including, lack of due process under the 14th Amendment and police reports that only the county’s presiding Judge could review. Rather than correct the well documented lack of competence, South Dakota officials have appealed Viken’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Briefs for the appeal are due March 10, 2017.

In 1879, off-reservation schools, once noted for feeding Indian children on pennies a day, profited from their labor. Perhaps the question we need to ask now is, who in Pennington County, South Dakota is profiting from clear violations of law by removing Indian children from their families?

Read More on the Story:
Eric Hannel: Centuries Old Practice of Removing Indian Children From Their Homes Continues Despite ICWA (Indian County Today 3/2)