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California Ohlone Offer Welcome and Support to Lakota and Child Rescue Project at Historic Meeting

July 13, 2012

On July 5th, 2012, at Resurrection Church in Aptos, CA, California Ohlone leader Ann Marie Sayers welcomed Lakota activist and grandmother Madonna Thunder Hawk in a historic meeting that marked the first time a Pacific coastal tribe has welcomed the first nations of the Great Plains. The meeting represented a step by Native people to build national coalitions on human rights issues. Sayers pledged support for efforts led by Thunder Hawk and other Lakota grandmothers working with the Lakota People's Law Project (LPLP) to find and regain custody of their grandchildren who have been taken by the state of South Dakota.

At the event, Madonna Thunder Hawk presented an account of the disregard of federal law by South Dakota state officials, who are seizing as many as 700 native children every year from their homes in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA requires that Native foster care children be placed with extended family members, other tribal households, or Native American homes, in that order, whenever possible. Thunder Hawk's account detailed the journeys of many Lakota children who are taken by the DSS and subsequently placed into white foster care homes or families at a rate of 95%.

These seizures generate millions of dollars in revenue for South Dakota. This is because states like South Dakota get $4,000 per child (up to $12,000 for children with special needs) from the federal government for each child they move out of foster care and into adoption, according to a Peabody Award-winning news investigation by NPR's Laura Sullivan titled "Native American Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families." Sullivan revealed that ten years ago South Dakota designated all Native American children special needs, so Native American children who are permanently removed from their homes are worth more to the state than other children.

Looking out into an audience of over 120 people at the event on July 5th event, Madonna Thunder Hawk spoke of the priority placed on children under the age of 2, as these children are in the highest demand in the adoption market. "The situation in South Dakota, with these children is very bad. The grandmothers are doing everything we can to get our children back."

Thunder Hawk is leading an part of the Lakota People's Law Project called "Grandmothers Su Ta Najin" (Grandmothers Standing Strong). Through this effort Lakota grandmothers are organizing to pressure South Dakota's Department of Social Services to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act. Thunder Hawk and the grandmothers she organizes have been encouraged by Sullivan's NPR report, which brought the facts on the ground in South Dakota to national awareness and generated outrage across the country.

Other speakers at the ceremony were Lakota People's Law Project Chief Counsel Daniel P. Sheehan and Executive Director Sara Nelson. Mr. Sheehan and Ms. Nelson each spoke of the dire need of national and community support of the Native children being taken from their families, homes, and tribes. "The kind of darkness going on in the state of South Dakota...The only way that injustice prevails is if good people do not do anything about it," said Nelson. "We are all the answer to this kind of behavior. Everything that happens happens because people make choices. There are people making choices about policies, about how programs are implemented, it's all about choices. If we make the choices from our hearts rather than from greed and oppression and injustice, then we turn the tide."

The meeting was the capstone of a community celebration called "A Tribute to America's First People." It was endorsed by a wide variety of faith communities, community groups, and human rights organizations. It took place from 5:30 - 9 pm and was split into two parts, a BBQ dinner and a night program featuring an Ohlone welcoming ceremony for the Lakota. Guests mingled and learned more about LPLP's work over a dinner featuring buffalo burgers. Children enjoyed Lakota games, crafts, and stories, while a live band, the Mystic Troubadours, filled the air with music.

To see photos of "A Tribute to America's First People", please visit . The Lakota People's Law Project is sponsored by the non-profit Romero Institute of Santa Cruz, CA. The Romero Institute is named after slain human rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Institute seeks to identify and dismantle the structural sources of injustice and threats to the survival of our human family. All rights reserved.