Holder announces “redoubled effort” for ICWA enforcement

On the heels of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s bellwether speech about a new initiative that will enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Lakota People’s Law Project will host the first meeting pursuant to the new initiative in an attempt to convince federal officials to bypass the state of South Dakota and fund the six remaining South Dakota Indian tribes directly.

The Lakota People’s Law Project applauds the dramatic step forward taken by United States Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday Dec. 3.

Mr. Holder prioritized the Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act in a broad and comprehensive speech that addressed the many social ills on American Indian Reservations throughout the country.

“We are redoubling our support of the Indian Child Welfare Act, to protect Indian children from being illegally removed from their families; to prevent the further destruction of Native traditions through forced and unnecessary assimilation; and to preserve a vital link between Native children and their community that has too frequently been severed – sometimes by those acting in bad faith,” Holder said during his speech in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, December 3.

Since 2008, the Lakota People’s Law Project has been asserting that the state of South Dakota is one such entity that continues to act in bad faith.

“South Dakota has willfully ignored the precepts of the ICWA for years, seizing Indian children and putting them in non-Indian homes at alarming rates,” said LPLP Attorney Chase Iron Eyes. “We are pleased to see that the highest law enforcement agency in the land correctly identifies this problem that is leading to the slow destruction of our cultural heritage and is taking the necessary steps to stop it.”

Holder further announced that the DOJ will undertake a new initiative to promote ICWA compliance, which includes filing “briefs opposing the unnecessary and illegal removal of Indian children from their families and their tribal communities.”

“We are partnering with the Departments of the Interior and Health and Human Services to make sure that all the tools available to the federal government are used to promote compliance with this important law,” Holder said.  “And we will join with those departments, and with tribes and Indian child-welfare organizations across the country, to explore training for state judges and agencies; to promote tribes’ authority to make placement decisions affecting tribal children; to gather information about where the Indian Child Welfare Act is being systematically violated; and to take appropriate, targeted action to ensure that the next generation of great tribal leaders can grow up in homes that are not only safe and loving, but also suffused with the proud traditions of Indian cultures.”

The Lakota People’s Law Project believes the central problem in South Dakota’s child foster care crisis is the state not only ignoring ICWA, but also using Indian Children to enhance the amount of federal dollars that funnels through the state child and family services department.

In response, our organization enlisted the help of grant consultants A Positive Tomorrow to begin filing for federal planning grants to help all nine tribes in South Dakota Indian Country begin to establish a foster care system administered by Lakota, for Lakota.

“The Lakota tribes are best suited to care for their children, ensuring not only they are afforded necessary shelter and care, but also that they grow up in their own culture and language — that they know what it means to be Lakota,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Brian Brewer.

On Thursday, December 4, The Lakota People Law Project will have the first meetings with DOJ representatives pursuant to the newly announced initiative, during which it will attempt to convince the high ranking officials in the DOJ, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the Department of the Interior to provide federal funding to the five remaining tribes.

Due to the work of LPLP and A Positive Tomorrow, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe received planning grants in 2014 in an effort to get out from under the South Dakota social services system. Rosebud Sioux Tribe received a planning grant in 2013.

“The remaining tribes need funding in order to separate itself from the sustained and unflinching abuses the culturally biased state system has perpetrated on the Lakota people,” said Executive Director Sara Nelson. “We believe Holder’s latest announcement represents a bold step forward, but words are one thing, what we need is for federal officials to take action and approve the funding that is necessary for the remaining South Dakota tribes to plan for Lakota-run foster care.”

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