2009-11-10 / Voices

Native children need rescuing

Lakota Child Rescue Project isn’t moving
HAZEL BONNER FREELANCE WRITER

Frederick Douglass said, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” How true this is. Our native children must be rescued. Marion Wright Edelman, the national President of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) sent me an annual fund letter last week giving me some disturbing facts about children in South Dakota. Those facts include: - 16,166 children in South Dakota live in extreme poverty – their family income is less than 50 percent of the national poverty level. The large proportion of these children are native;

- That means that 8.4 percent of our children are desperately poor, again most are native;

- 1,529 children are determined to be abused and neglected; most are native;

The state spends 1.9 times more per month on each prisoner than on each public school student.

Native Students drop out of school at a rate six times that of white students. Native children are six times more likely to be arrested than are white children, and the list goes on.

Add to that the disturbing facts of the very disproportionate number of native children in our Department of Corrections facilities; the huge disproportion of native children in foster care or other programs under Child Protection Services and we see the total destruction of tribes through their children

Over six years ago the Lakota Peoples’ Law Project developed the Lakota Child Rescue Program. More than three years ago they were planning on filing a class action lawsuit against primarily South Dakota Department of Social Services

DSS). It still has not happened. This writer has continuously encouraged them to include children in DOC custody, not just those in DSS custody.

This writer attended several meetings, one in Hot Springs five years ago. I then had a heart attack and open heart surgery and was laid up for about six months. Daniel Sheehan and several local supporters came to see me at my daughter’s house during my recovery. I attended the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) training as a Continuing Legal Education Workshop in May, 2006 paid for the by Rescue project.

was encouraged because a grandchild had been returned to a grandmother under kinship care, a situation that was a long and hard fought battle, but it did happen. Kinship care continues to not happen on a regular basis. South Dakota law was changed in 2004 to give preference to kinship care.

People are finally being sent paperwork to enroll them as named plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit to join others that they had already recruited. Our law under ICWA law is ignored on a regular basis.

I attended a hearing before Presiding Judge Jeff Davis with a grandmother seeking custody of her granddaughter. Davis said she had no standing in the case, but she was listed as the Indian Custodian. According to the law she could intervene at any point in the proceeding. Davis also said she didn’t have the right to a courtappointed attorney.

She had the right by law to seek custody of the child, but he said she had no standing. She was appointed Paul Brankin as her court appointed attorney. Neither he, nor any one from his office, appeared at the next hearing. She again was left there alone to fight for her granddaughter. Both parents had their parental rights terminated, and the child is probably going to be adopted by a white family with relatives standing by to take this child. She has been raised by her grandmother since she was an infant.

The grandmother had previously visited the rescue project and she went back there again. She was given the paperwork to participate in the class action lawsuit. She was told the steps to take but no one did any of it in her behalf. She has visited the local ICWA officeon numerous occasions, with little help coming from them.

The Lakota Child Rescue Project needs to file that lawsuit as soon as possible. In the last five years thousands of native children have been lost to white parents and not placed in kinship care with a relative. The continuing cost of keeping children in foster care and placing in group and treatment facilities is truly prohibitive.

The last available data from the South Dakota Department of Social Services is for August, 2009. It reports that there were 1,139 children in Family Foster Care (844) Group and Residential Facilities (92) and Psychiatric Treatment Facilities (293).

We spent $2,163,622 on these three programs during August. There is no indication that these are accumulative costs. In addition there were 1,320 subsidized adoptions, 142 Subsidized guardianships and only 218 children in kinship care. Why aren’t there at least 500 kids in kinship care?

At the same time there are 833 youth in DOC facilities, other facilities paid by DOC and in aftercare, including DOC paid foster care. None of these children are included in the class action lawsuit, but they should be.

Does the law really mean much when it comes to Natives, especially children? I have ordered Frank Pommersheim’s book Broken Landscape, Indians, Tribes and the Constitution. I really enjoyed the book Review written by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn.

Cook-Lynn said: It would appear that everything that can be broken in Indian Country is broken; religion and culture, motherhood and a --- racial future, and now the landscape. That is certainly true. Kudos to Elizabeth Cook-Lynn and Frank Pommersheim for telling it like it is.

Bonner is a freelance writer who writes from her home. She may be reached electronically at bonpidge@ gwtc.net; by snail mail at PO Box 3712, Rapid City, SD 57709-3712, or by phone at 605.342.5834, ext. 120-5-9 only please.

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