Following a stirring speech by President Obama at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, the Lakota Sioux tribes took a historic step forward on Monday in their ongoing struggle to end South Dakota’s seizures of their children.
Five Lakota tribes of South Dakota, with expert assistance from A Positive Tomorrow, have submitted Title IVE Applications for Federal Planning Grants to fund the planning of their own foster care programs. During the two year grant period, they will increase their tribal capacity to qualify for direct federal funding to operate their own Child and Family Service Centers.
Sioux Tribal leaders have long asserted that state-run foster care programs, which tend to place native children in non-native homes, are preventing Lakota children from being reared in an environment where they inherit a strong sense of their personal identity and cultural heritage.
“The unjust taking of our grandchildren in the Crow Creek community was the focus of the Peabody Award winning radio series on National Public Radio in late 2011,” said former tribal Chairman Brandon Sazue. “We are ready to implement a permanent solution to this problem that has been going on for 130 years.”
“We want to make sure this historic solution is realized,” said Chase Iron Eyes, a South Dakota counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “The people best situated to care for our children are our own families and extended family network, which we call Tiospaye.”
“My administration is determined to partner with tribes,” Obama said during his speech at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, going on to lend his support to the Lakota’s effort to address long standing economic and social conditions.
“We want children learning about their language and learning about their culture,” the President said.
In 2011, National Public Radio published an in-depth investigation into whether the South Dakota Department of Social Services repeatedly violates the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and receives significant federal money in the process.
“The up to $65 million that’s going to the state of South Dakota should be coming to us so we can keep our families together,” said Chase Iron Eyes during a public meeting in Rapid City, South Dakota, last July.
ICWA is federal legislation passed in 1978 that is intended to give Native American tribes a strong voice in child custody issues with an ultimate aim of ensuring tribes rights to maintain and preserve their language and culture.
The NPR report asserted that nine in 10 native children were being placed by the DSS into non-native homes in South Dakota, prompting tribal officials to formulate ways to divert federal funding away from South Dakota’s social service agencies and transfer it into native foster care systems.
The planning grant applications are being submitted for funding under the terms of the 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, commonly referred to as the Baucus Act. The law introduced major changes to the Social Security Act, primarily in Section IV-E, regarding foster care and adoptions assistance payments to the states. One of the major changes made it possible for federally recognized tribes to receive direct IV-E payments to support their own child and welfare programs without state intervention. Previously Section IV-E monies could only be given to state agencies.
The planning grant program under the Baucus Act can award individual planning grants up to $300,000 and has a total annual budget of $3 million. According to the Tribal Directory of the Bureau of Indian Affairs there are 566 federally recognized tribes. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe received a Baucus planning grant in 2013.
Five Sioux tribes are submitting applications under the Baucus Act this year: Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Standing Rock, Yankton and Pine Ridge by the June 24, deadline.
“If we are successful, we can build up our families and help keep our children on the reservation,” said Sam Sully, Secretary of Yankton Tribe Business and Claims Committee. “It is a big problem, kids are taken off the reservation and it causes a lot of hardships. We have a lot of work to do, and we intend to be successful.”
The Lakota People's Law Project has provided research support and assisted A Positive Tomorrow, a Native-American advocacy group specializing in these grants to work with the tribal leadership.
A Positive Tomorrow was crucial in preparing the grant applications and issued the following statement:
“This historic achievement would not have been possible without the tribes’ determination, efficiency, and professionalism, and without the assistance of the Lakota People’s Law Project. I truly hope that Health and Human Services acknowledges the severity of the crisis in South Dakota, and makes the Lakota applications a priority.”
The Lakota People’s Law Project has been partnering with tribes and leaders in South Dakota since 2005 from its offices in Rapid City, South Dakota, and Santa Cruz, California. LPLP’s activities have included funding and supporting Native experts to provide technical assistance to the tribes on family and child welfare issues. The project combines public interest law, investigation, research, education, and organizing into a unique model for advocacy and social reform.
The Lakota People's Law Project is sponsored by the non-profit Romero Institute based in Santa Cruz, California. The Institute is named after slain human rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Institute seeks to identify and dismantle structural sources of injustice and threats to the survival of our human family.