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By Lakota People’s Law Project

Supporters of the Lakota People’s Law Project and the Lakota Sioux tribes have cause for celebration as the organization dedicated to racial equality for the Indian people in South Dakota and throughout the United States has reached 50,000 signatures on its MoveOn petition campaign.

The petition, launched in 2014, urges President Barack Obama to stop the South Dakota Department of Social Services’ seizure of Lakota children from their families and subsequent placement of them in non-Native settings where they are alienated from their culture, heritage and language.

“This landmark achievement demonstrates that a growing number of American people are fed up with unequal treatment of Indian children and families. The mission of this organization is beginning to expand into the consciousness of more and more people in the U.S. and abroad,” said Chase Iron Eyes, attorney for LPLP. “The federal government should stop funding South Dakota’s Department of Social Services, which prioritizes their own revenue streams over the sanctity of our Lakota families and culture. It must, and it will stop.”

In December, Chase Iron Eyes and other members of LPLP accompanied a delegation of Lakota Sioux tribal chairman from South Dakota to Washington, D.C. There they met with high ranking federal officials seeking a solution to this crisis through bypassing the foster care funding of the state of South Dakota and transferring the Title IV-E funds to the tribes to develop and run their own Indian Child and Family Service Programs.

“It will require persistence and diligence to plan a culturally competent program, to build necessary tribal capacity, and to train and hire their social workers to run their own Child and Family Services,” said Yvonne Ito, Executive Director of A Positive Tomorrow, who is a national expert in Title IV-E tribal development projects. “But I know the Sioux tribes in South Dakota can do it.”

During the December meetings with federal officials the number of petition signatures drew the attention of officials in the U.S. Department of Justice, according to LPLP Executive Director Sara Nelson. The Department of Justice had just publically announced their support of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), and acknowledged that ICWA violations are a serious problem.

“South Dakota DSS violates the Indian Child Welfare Act every day. We need to continue to exert pressure on officials, and not only make clear the urgency of the problems in South Dakota and the necessity to implement feasible, practical and effective solutions, but show them that the will of the American people insists upon it. We are now going for 100,000 signatures,” said Sara Nelson.

In 2013, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, one of the nine tribes in South Dakota, received a Title IV-E planning grant under a competitive application process sponsored by the United States Department of Health in Human Services.

Last year, the Lakota People’s Law Project facilitated experts from A Positive Tomorrow to write pro bono applications for seven of the remaining tribes — and two, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe, received the IV-E Planning Grants and have begun moving forward on their tribal Child and Family Service Program planning projects.

However, the Lakota People’s Law Project and five Lakota Chairmen travelled to Washington D.C. in December during Obama’s Tribal Nations Conference to convince federal officials that funding all of the Sioux tribes in South Dakota simultaneously will create efficiencies in the process as the tribes will be able to share ideas, best practices and services. “Our families are intermarried, and it makes total sense for all of our tribes to be moving forward on tribal family services collaboratively at the same time,” said Chairman Robert Flying Hawk from the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

The Lakota People’s Law Project is in close contact with officials in the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Interior and is dedicated to winning federal planning support for the remaining five tribes.

“This is a crucial step toward a renewal of our people,” said Brian Brewer, former President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “These grants will allow us to operate out from under the racially biased systems of the state of South Dakota and begin to provide family services that are culturally competent, fair and effective. Our children are sacred. I hope more and more people will stand with us in this effort to turn our future from slow genocide to a renewal of the Great Sioux Nation.”

For those interested in viewing the petition, please go to http://lakotalaw.org/action.

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 nonprofit Romero Institute, which is based in Santa Cruz, CA. 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.