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The Lakota People’s Law Project announced today that four tribes of the Lakota Sioux Nation in South Dakota have applied for federal planning grants in an effort to stop the illegal seizure of their children by an abusive state system.

“This represents a significant step toward the ultimate goal of sovereignty for the great Lakota Nation,” said Chase Iron Eyes, attorney for Lakota People’s Law Project. “The tribes and our extended families are the people best positioned to look after our children. There is an awareness growing here in South Dakota, that state officials cannot be trusted to look after the welfare of Indian families and children due to a preponderance of discrimination and racial hostility.”

The four tribes — Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, and the Yankton Sioux Tribe — all applied for planning grants during last year’s grant awarding process, but were denied on the grounds that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services only awards a maximum of five grants per year. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe did receive their planning grants last year.

The Lakota People’s Law Project and tribal leaders have since met with high-ranking federal officials in Washington D.C. to make the case that funding all nine tribes is not only necessary, it is urgent.

“The state of South Dakota has not issued one statement indicating they are willing to even assess their racially insensitive policies let alone change them,” said Brian Brewer, former chairman of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “It is time for the United States to honor their obligation to our people and liberate us from state structures that are racially abusive and primarily see our children as a means to make money.”

A recent decision in South Dakota federal court found that officials in Pennington County, South Dakota had been conspiring to deprive Lakota parents of fundamental constitutional due process rights and of five different provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Parents who were supposed to have a substantive hearing to defend themselves and challenge the taking of their children, had perfunctory hearings that lasted only two or three minutes.

Despite the existence of ICWA, Indians in South Dakota comprise about 13 percent of the population, but represent more than half of the foster care population. The Lakota People’s Law Project conducted an investigation showing that the State takes Indian children, diagnoses them with one or more psychiatric conditions, categorizes them as “special needs children”, and then stands to receive more federal dollars for their state economy.

By removing an estimated 750 Indian children from their homes per year, the state takes in approximately $63 million annually in federal funds. The perverse incentive extends to private foster care institutions, such as Children’s Home Society, almost all of which have now become psychiatric institutions receiving more federal money.
“The urgency cannot be overstated,” said Madonna Thunder Hawk, a member of LPLP and founder of the Cheyenne River Grandmothers Council. “While we understand the federal government has its protocol, every day our tribes are forced to rely on the corrupt Department of Social Services is a day when more of our innocent children are imperiled and our culture is further eroded. Our children are sacred. We must achieve autonomy and we cannot wait any longer.”

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that the Department of Health and Human Services did not display enough urgency when awarding grants and assisting tribes in building the capacity necessary to run their own Child and Family Services. The report also stated peer-to-peer training by tribes going through the process contemporaneously is a tremendous benefit.

“By having all of the willing tribes come online at the same time, we create efficiencies in terms of time and cost and further ensure there is a critical mass of trained professionals operating on the tribes’ behalf,” said Yvonne Ito, CEO of A Positive Tomorrow, the national team of experts who worked with three Lakota tribes and one Omaha Tribe of Nebraska who filed applications this week. “This helps to address one of the deficiencies outlined in the GAO report. We are dedicated to the Great Plains Sioux Tribes, and we are certain that they can successfully operate their own Child and Family Service Programs if they have long term access to effective training, education and expertise. We are not only working with them to plan their IV-E programs, we are also working with them to apply for ‘wrap around’ grants that will strengthen their housing, courts, nutritional base, health, youth programs, economic development and college degree programs to fill the various jobs that will be created. Our goal is to work with the tribes to transform a slow genocide into a positive renewal. ”

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 Bill. The law introduced major changes to the Social Security Act, primarily in Section IV-E, which made it possible for federally recognized tribes to receive direct IV-E payments to support their own child and family programs without state intervention. Previously, Section IV-E monies could only be given to state agencies.

Under the Baucus Bill, the HHS can award individual tribal planning grants up to $300,000 and has limited the total to $1,500,000 each year. According to the Tribal Directory of the Bureau of Indian Affairs there are 566 federally recognized tribes, and critics argue that the process will take a century at the rate that HHS is funding the tribes.

“HHS should fund the South Dakota tribes immediately because HHS is currently funding the state while it violates Constitutional Rights and ICWA laws every day,” said Sara Nelson, Executive Director of the Lakota People’s Law Project.  The illegalities have been verified by the Justice Department, and HHS should move the money and training to the tribes who will provide more appropriate and healing services to their people.”

Due to the efforts of the tribes, A Positive Tomorrow, and the Lakota People’s Law Project, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe on Pine Ridge Reservation received planning grants in 2014. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe independently received a Baucus planning grant in 2013.

Should the federal government award planning grants to the current four applicants, seven of the nine tribes in South Dakota would be on their way to establishing tribally run foster and kinship care programs.

The Lakota People’s Law Project has been partnering with tribes and leaders in South Dakota since 2005 from its offices in Rapid City, SD and Santa Cruz, CA. 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, Calif. 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.