Captain Joseph Brings of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Law Enforcement would like to see children kept on the reservation and not lost to the state. Courtesy photo

Police captain discusses children lost to the system

PIERRE – Like many indigenous nations in the United States, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has been losing children to the state for generations.

Captain Joseph Brings Plenty of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Law Enforcement has been with the department for several years and has witnessed the removal of children for homes throughout his career. This is part of his job.

Brings Plenty said that a majority of the calls they receive that result in a child placement are from parent drinking, using drugs, or another kind of substance rendering incapable of caring for a child. Another way children are taken into care is when pregnant mothers are using substances and these are found during pregnancy and birth. Some children are removed from homes when it is found the living conditions are not suitable, as well.

“I see Social Workers that are from the area here making accommodations to the parents, as long as they are trying but for the most cases, it’s parents that are using substances that these sorts of calls involve,” said Captain Brings Plenty. “That’s the advantage of using local people. They know people in the area and they can understand the difference in culture on the reservation versus off the reservation. They make that extra effort to encourage and support, above and beyond what the position requires.”

Another part of the issue his having a place or home to house the children removed from the residence. Brings Plenty said there are no facilities to house children who are in foster care on the reservation. Despite the push from South Dakota Department of Social Services to find foster homes within reservation boundaries, he says this is done with little success.

Toni Handboy is a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member and founder of Piya Wicoicaga Luta. She has become an advocate for children and families in her tribe and has become a voice for men and women in incarceration. Read her story on Native Sun News Today: Children lost to the system at Cheyenne River . Photo courtesy Karla Abbott

“The facilities that house foster children are mostly located off of reservation lands. Most of which are treatment centers, which says to me that these children have to be found to have some sort of issue to be sent to residential treatment facilities, maybe evaluating children and having to recognize a diagnosable cause for treatment,” said Brings Plenty.

According to the police captain, many of the children do not have issues with substances, but the results of the actions of their parents or guardians is why they end up in treatment centers, or other similar homes. He said this is not the choice of the child but it is a sad truth of what happens to youth on the reservation.

“The children get sent to foster care for the duration of their youth, or maybe their life time depending on if the child is adopted out or not,” said Brings Plenty. “I know that funding follows these children. I don’t know if this is the driving force or if it isn’t, but I do know that reunification is supposed to be the DSS Motto, working with families, making them strong and what not. If this is the case, then why terminate parental rights after two years? The child is adopted out and if the adopted parent is kind enough, the parent or parents would be able to see their biological child but in all honestly that is not a given.”

Captain Brings Plenty did not have information regarding the number of children removed from homes, but he did cite a 2011 NPR report which stated over 700 children in South Dakota are removed from their homes each hear. “That article was done 8 years ago, our population has risen and with it the social issues our native populations are facing.”

“In the past, I’ve had an opportunity to visit with a number of children that aged out in the system. From visiting with the youth, it’s apparent they lose a connection with their families,” said Captain Brings Plenty. “In Lakota society, if you lose your family and you're all alone it isn’t an easy life to live. You can easily be consumed by the street life or the end result of a life in prison or death. It sounds bleak but it’s only the truth in what the majority of our children are facing with no direction.”

According to Brings Plenty, traditionally for Native Americans the U.S. government has attempted to eradicate their belief systems. This was done through policy, churches and learning institutions. “Nowadays people paint a feather on something or have a talking circle once a month and its deemed cultural. When in fact, the many lessons and teachings our people have would take more than a life time to understand, just a small percentage of what it means to be Lakota. A child is raised outside of their culture lose that cultural connection; the substance of what makes them native,” he said.

Brings Plenty explains that the Lakota language and prayers is what keeps the nation strong. The concept of ‘7 Generations’ is way of thinking and a responsibility to the next seven generations. This in essence is the next 150 years of children. Losing these children is losing the Lakota nation.

When asked why he thought children were being lost to the system and if there were loop holes in the system, Captain Brings Plenty replied, “It is no secret that IV-E funding follows each Native child that’s put into foster care/adoption. IV-E funding is federal dollars that the U.S. government appropriates for foster care. I’m not saying this is the driving force for the state’s interest in Indian children, but what is the driving force? Why do Native children make up over 60 percent of children in foster care and state adoption, especially when our population makes up no more than 11-12% in the State of South Dakota?”


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