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Justice in Indian country

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Questions linger over child's removal from her family

Part six

Editor's note: This week, Indian Country Today continues an ongoing series that examines justice in Indian country. To share your comments, e-mail us at, using ''Justice''' in the subject line.

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Katie was 8 years old when she was taken from her biological family and later given up for adoption to a couple from Colorado.

That's not so unusual under certain circumstances, but in this case, her entire family was ready to raise her and became qualified to do so.

Katie (not her real name) is now 17 years old. Her name has been completely changed through the adoption process, and the situation that caused her to be removed from her family has changed dramatically.

Katie, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, was adopted by a family that claimed - falsely, according to Katie's biological grandmother - [to be Indian] by presenting what was allegedly forged enrollment information. The Rosebud Sioux Enrollment office confirmed that he was not enrolled, nor has he submitted a request for enrollment.

Katie's father, Farrell Dillon, was accused and convicted of sexual assault and pedophilia that allegedly involved Katie and four other girls. Dillon has served nine years of a 115-year sentence for the offense and continually maintained his innocence. In early August, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled that Dillon should have a retrial because his defense attorney prejudiced the case and presented a poor and inadequate defense.

New attorneys for Dillon assert that the case against Dillon is weak and that there is a good chance he may be exonerated of the charges. In which case, therein lies a real problem.

But questions arise: Did the state of South Dakota act hastily in its decision to put Katie up for adoption? Why was her biological family not allowed to adopt Katie or at least raise her under foster care when, in fact, her aunt went through classes and was certified as a foster parent by the state?

The state Department of Social Services claims to have done everything according to the book as far as the federal Indian Child Welfare Act is concerned. The Rosebud Indian Child Welfare Act office told Katie's grandmother, Marge Two Hawk, that the office received no contact from the state.

Two Hawk, her husband, her daughter and her son-in-law all went through parenting classes to qualify as foster parents or adoptive parents for Katie, but they were rejected for reasons unknown to the family.

Katie was handed from one foster family to another, none of which were American Indian, while her biological family had no knowledge of her whereabouts.

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''Our granddaughter was kidnapped from us on Oct. 6, 1998; we were never notified of her whereabouts, how she was doing, etc., absolutely nothing. Six months later, I accidentally learned of a meeting being held on April 21, 1999, which we attended and we finally knew where our granddaughter was,'' Two Hawk said.

The family finally saw Katie for the first time on April 22 at a DSS office and talked to her through glass windows, ''cameras and microphones and God knows what else; and every visit after that was supervised,'' she said.

''I think they were afraid I would talk her into recanting her story about her father,'' Two Hawk said. ''The DSS people also said I was protecting my son. He is my son and he claims to be innocent.''

Katie was returned to the family in August 2001, full of head lice and unhappy, Two Hawk said. After a few approved trips to Rosebud for the fair and visits with Katie's cousins and aunts and uncles, she became happy again.

''We did get our granddaughter in August 2001 and she was very happy with her family. I as her grandmother taught her the Native dance and her great-grandmother and grandfather were teaching her her Native language as it should have been. She learned her Native dance very fast and enjoyed it,'' Two Hawk said.

Then on Feb. 21, 2002, DSS took Katie away again. Two Hawk said she did not receive a good explanation as to why. That was the last time the family had contact with her.

Two Hawk said she did not ask, nor would she have asked, Katie to recant her story. Katie suffers from Fetal Alcohol Effects. Her mother drank heavily during the pregnancy and abandoned her at the age of 2 weeks. Katie grew up with the Two Hawk family and was partially raised by her great-grandmother.

The DSS told Two Hawk that Katie was with a family that was continuing to teach her the Lakota culture. Her adoptive father is of Mexican heritage, Two Hawk said.

Since the adoptive father's claim to be an enrolled Lakota is false, according to Two Hawk and the tribal Rosebud enrollment office, the state erred in allowing the adoption to take place, she claims. She asked the state DSS to review her granddaughter's adoption and to look closer at the ICWA regulations.

''I will inform you again that [Katie] was adopted by a Native American family, and the family is very involved in their cultural traditions and practices,'' wrote DSS Secretary James W. Ellenbecker to Two Hawk on March 25, 2005.

There are many questions to be answered: Was ICWA followed? Did the state act to prevent Two Hawk and her family from asking Katie to recant her story? And the most pressing question of all: Was Dillon guilty as charged?

The state DSS and attorney general's office claim to have done nothing as alleged by Two Hawk and that all procedures were followed.

Katie is now 17 years old, and the other girls involved in the accusations are 17 and 18. A new trial date for Dillon has not yet been set.