LPLP History

Since 2004, The Lakota People's Law Project (Lakota Law) has worked in and with Indigenous communities and leaders to tackle systemic issues, build effective grassroots movements, protect traditional and family structures, and win Native and environmental justice. Our work began when a group of grandmothers in Lakota Country — an area comprised of nine Native nations in North and South Dakota — asked us to investigate and help prevent South Dakota's Department of Social Services (DSS) from removing their grandchildren from their families.

That investigation uncovered drugging and routine patterns of physical and mental abuse of Native children in foster care, which were leading to high levels of youth suicide and prolonging decades-old patterns of generational trauma. These atrocities, a direct violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) — an important federal law enacted in 1978 and preserved by the Supreme Court in 2023 — inspired Lakota Law's attorneys and media professionals to attack cycles of injustice and work to end the slow genocide of the Lakota.

Our first program, the ongoing Lakota Child Rescue Project, launched in 2005 to assist the return of Lakota children to their families, tribes, and communities. Then, in 2011, Lakota Law invited National Public Radio journalist Laura Sullivan to South Dakota. After a year of research supported by our staff, Sullivan produced a Peabody Award-winning series of stories about the foster care crisis in Lakota Country — including the systematic, and perhaps financially-motivated, violations of ICWA by South Dakota's DSS.

Following this reporting — heard by an estimated 20 million people — members of the U.S. Congress issued a letter demanding action. In response, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) promised to host a summit for key stakeholders. When the BIA failed to immediately follow through, Lakota Law organized intensively to inspire action. In the summer of 2012, we helped increase tribal participation at a conference in Rapid City, S.D. attended by three Executive Branch Departments (the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Human Services).

Since 2012, Lakota Law has successfully organized to secure $200,000 planning grants to assist the Standing Rock and Pine Ridge Nations in securing direct federal funding to administer foster care and adoption services. The work to secure autonomy from South Dakota continues to this day. Lakota Law also helped to facilitate the opening of a teen center and Native-run kinship care home on the Standing Rock Nation.

In 2016, our mission expanded in response to a new call to action from Standing Rock's youth and elders. They asked Indigenous People and allies to stand with Standing Rock and other tribes of the Oceti Sakowin (the Great Sioux Nation) against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), slated to cross under the Mni Sose (Missouri River), just upstream from the Standing Rock Reservation.

We went to work immediately, assisting water protectors dedicated to stopping this imminent threat to sacred lands and water. The #NoDAPL movement set a template for Indigenous-led resistance actions. It inspired the world, drawing tens of thousands of people to Standing Rock and media stories across the globe. When Native People subsequently led resistance movements against the Keystone XL and Line 3 pipelines and took on mining efforts on their traditional homelands in Nevada and the Black Hills, we hit the ground to support them, too.

What happened at Standing Rock has continued to occur in all of these places. Injustices perpetrated against water and land protectors during the peaceful and prayerful resistances highlight a blatant pattern of contempt and disregard for Indigenous People and their sovereignty. In 2017, in the wake of the Standing Rock protests, we also undertook a successful defense of Lakota Law director Chase Iron Eyes, who had been arrested for allegedly trespassing on his tribe's own ancestral lands and instigating a "riot" during the #NoDAPL movement.

That term — "riot" — was later adopted by legislators wishing to curtail the constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties to free speech and expression so necessary to a healthy, functioning democracy. States around the U.S. began passing laws meant to chill and criminalize protest against pipelines (and other "infrastructure"), whose operators constantly ignore treaty boundaries and demonstrate zero care about despoiling Unci Maka (our Grandmother Earth). The Lakota People's Law Project remains committed to protecting First Amendment rights from attacks in Washington and the halls of justice, and we won't stop fighting Big Oil to safeguard sacred lands and precious water from toxic fossil fuel and mining projects.

We also work closely with tribal nations, traditional Indigenous Leaders, and nonprofit compatriots to amplify Indigenous voices, provide renewable solutions in place of fossil fuel consumption, protect the voting rights of Native people, and provide on-the-ground support when and where it is needed most. That includes working with organizers to advance LGTBQ2S rights in Indian Country.

Lakota Law aims to assist in the reclamation of Indigenous lands and to stop threats to Lakota — and all Indigenous — culture. The Lakota flourished for centuries before Europeans arrived on these lands, and the Native tradition of living in relation to all things is more important today than ever. Please learn more about how to help by clicking through to our Action Center, subscribing to our newsletter, or becoming a Lakota Law member!

Leadership & Legal


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