South Dakota briefs

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ICWA APPROVED

After four years of impassioned pleas by tribal members on the State-Tribal
Relations committee, legislation passed both houses requiring the
involvement of tribes and families or custodians of children placed in the
Social Services system, whether in temporary custody or for adoption. The
Department of Social Services and the state's attorneys will be required to
make sure all efforts to notify the families and tribe are made in a timely
manner and that a hearing is promptly held.

Criticism against the state for not adhering to the federal Indian Child
Welfare Act has been ongoing for the past several years. One year ago, a
state ICWA bill was sidelined in favor of one establishing a commission to
study ICWA and its administration by the state.

The Senate passed this most recent bill unanimously. Tribal officials and
ICWA representatives from tribes approved the bill as written.

REDISTRICTING BILL UNFAIR, TRIBAL OFFICIALS CLAIM

South Dakota was found guilty of violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by
packing a district with a majority American Indian population and failing
to create two districts that may allow American Indians to elect preferred
candidates to state offices and the Legislature.

In an attempt to resolve possible redistricting violations, a bill approved
by both houses would authorize counties to change voting district
boundaries in years other than the second year after a Census year. The
state Supreme Court has the case on the docket to determine if the state
can redistrict outside the regularly-designated year.

The legislation allows a county to change district boundaries or choose
election of the county commissioners at large. The change would only be
allowed at the bidding of the governor and secretary of state.

The bill was introduced at the request of the Charles Mix County
Commission, which is involved in a lawsuit that alleges violations of the
"one-person, one-vote" rule and of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act for
diluting the American Indian vote. Charles Mix County is home to the
Yankton Sioux Tribe.

Opponents claim this legislation is an attempt to circumvent the lawsuit,
which was filed by the ACLU on behalf of plaintiffs who are Yankton Sioux
Tribe members. Proponents claim it gives counties in the rest of the state
an opportunity to correct a violation.

No American Indian has ever been elected to the county commission, yet the
Native population is substantial enough to warrant tribal members on the
commission, opponents argued.

Yankton Sioux Tribe members said that for the Legislature to side with the
commission sends the wrong message about democracy to the American Indian
community.

"The county made no effort to reach out to our attorneys. We heard nothing
from the county or the attorneys. We would have been more than willing to
talk to them. This bill is an attempt to not have to talk to us," said
Sharon Drapeau, Yankton Sioux Tribal member and former candidate for county
commission.