One afternoon in 2008, Janice Howe—a Dakota Indian—waited at the bus stop for her grandchildren to come home from school. They never arrived.
Earlier that day, a social worker had taken Janice's grandchildren. They were driven to a white foster facility hundreds of miles away. The reason stated in the case file: a "rumor" that Janice's daughter, Erin Yellow Robe, had been using drugs. She hadn't. To this day, Janice's daughter hasn't been charged or arrested for drugs—or anything else.
For the next year and a half, Janice fought to get her grandchildren back. She called the state's director of social services. She wrote letters to the governor. Finally, she convinced her tribal council to threaten the state with kidnapping. A few weeks later, her grandchildren were returned...on a "trial basis."
Since 2005 the Lakota People's Law Project has been working with hundreds of families who share Janice's story. But they haven't all been so lucky. Over the past decade, the state of South Dakota has removed more than 5,000 Native American children from their homes.
Sadly, this problem is not new. For more than 100 years Lakota children have been taken from their families. It began in the 1880s under a U.S. Government policy of forced assimilation: children as young as 5 years old were removed from their homes, shipped to boarding schools, and instructed in the ways of white culture. Today, a generation of children is once again losing its connection to its culture. This time it's through state-run foster care.
There is some good news in all of this—we can do something about it! The Lakota People's Law Project is waging a comprehensive campaign to win the return of more than 2,200 Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota children illegally taken from their families. The effort combines three major initiatives:
- The Lakota Children Legal Action Fund supports our research, investigative, and legal work. Currently, we are compiling court-admissible evidence and preparing a federal civil lawsuit on behalf of tribes and families whose legal and human rights have been violated by the state.
- The ICWA Amendment Initiative is a grassroots organizing and lobbying effort to fix the flaws in the Indian Child Welfare Act which hinder Native American families from enforcing their rights.
- Through "Grandmothers Su Ta Najin Pe (Standing Strong)," organizer and tribal liaison Madonna Thunder Hawk has spent the last several years traveling to every corner of South Dakota, educating her fellow grandmothers of their rights and organizing them to put pressure on state officials.
We encourage you to learn more about each of these initiatives. If you feel moved, please sign our letter to Congress asking them to go to conduct a field hearing in South Dakota and hear first-hand from those effected by the state's actions. You can also sign up up to receive our newsletter and email action alerts.