Law | Opinion

Eric Hannel: Removing Indian children is a big business for some






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

Researcher Eric Hannel, a former Congressional staffer, continues his look into the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act in South Dakota:
Removal of Indian children from their homes appears to be a lucrative business in South Dakota, to the tune of “almost a hundred million dollars a year,” according to a 2011 NPR investigation. That’s not including the “adoption incentive bonus” paid to the state when “they move kids to foster care and into adoption – about $4,000 a child.” If the child has special needs, “a state can get as much as $12,000” and interestingly, South Dakota “designated all Native Children” as “special needs.” Consistent with South Dakota’s Department of Social Services, Adoption Subsidy Program, the definition of special needs includes “a child’s age, race, or religion” which has pathologized simply being Indian. In a state where Native Americans make up only “15.5 percent of the child population,” yet account for “54 percent of the youth foster care population,” per the Lakota Law Project, it’s lucrative to steal Indian children from tribes because they have little to no voice in a representative democracy. It’s worth mentioning that South Dakota ranked 47th in a 2015 nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity investigation where the state received an “F” for everything from Public Access to Information to Electoral Oversight and a “D” for Judicial Accountability.

Pennington County, South Dakota, the main culprit but not the only one violating the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was ordered to take corrective actions in 2015, but ignored the federal court decision and appealed the results to the 8th Circuit. The stall tactic comes as no surprise given evidence that reveals “a revolving door” from the “high-ranking state offices including the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and private foster care facilities that continue to receive large no-bid contracts from the state.” The NPR investigation reported how one member of the Crow Creek Indian reservation, in Buffalo County had her twin babies taken by the state when she was “rumored” to be using drugs even though she had never had any legal problems. Two months later her two older children never arrived home from school as the state absconded with them. After exhausting all her options, she appealed to the tribal council who passed a resolution warning the state that if the children were not returned, “it would be charged with kidnapping and prosecuted.” Weeks later a car pulled up at the mother’s home and her children were dropped off – one and a half years after they were illegally taken. The mother was never charged with any crime and it was later discovered that at least one of her children had been mistreated while in foster care. In recent years, the Crow Creek tribe of 1,400 members has had 33 children taken and all the children were placed in white foster homes.

Read More on the Story:
Eric Hannel: Skirting the Indian Child Welfare Act Is a Lucrative Business (Indian Country Media Network 3/10)

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Eric Hannel: County removes Indian children at an alarming rate (3/2)
Native Sun News Today: Indian Child Welfare Act fight continues as South Dakota appeals lawsuit (01/25)
Lakota Country Times: Historic decision for Indian Child Welfare Act (01/17)
Native Sun News Today: Big decision in Indian Child Welfare Act case in South Dakota (12/27)