Oglala Sioux Tribe confront Congress about suicide problem on reservation

The suicide problem on the Pine Ridge Reservation demonstrates the absence of hope on South Dakota Indian reservations.

That is the message delivered to Congress this week, as C.J. Clifford, member of the Pine Ridge Tribal Council, told the United States legislators about the devastating consequences of a broken system that relegates the proud Lakota to high unemployment, dim economic prospects and the indifference of a racially biased system.

Since the calendar turned to 2015, 14 members of the tribe between the ages of 12 and 24 committed suicide and that barely begins to describe the depth of the problem.

According to Clifford, 176 more young Natives attempted suicide with approximately 230 more contemplating killing themselves.

The statistics provided by the Indian Health Service demonstrate the urgency for radical solutions in South Dakota, where generations of racial bias and mistreatment at the hands of the state is beginning to have profoundly adverse affects.

“We are struggling,” Clifford told Congress this week according to Think Progress. “We need the resources to get out in front of the problem.”

While Lakota People’s Law Project is heartened that the Department of Energy is dedicating nearly $300,000 to the Department of Education to help fund counselors and mental health experts, we believe it is merely a band-aid that covers a much deeper wound.

We have worked with the Pine Ridge Reservation to beginning setting up their own independently run Child and Family Service programs in order to stem the tide of child seizures by the state of South Dakota. Despite the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, South Dakota takes nearly 740 children from their Indian homes annually, in most cases due to “neglect”, which in the case of Pine Ridge is often a conflation of neglect and poverty.

If we are to truly participate in the healing of these badly traumatized nations, we must first recognize the extent to which Caucasian society contributed to their present problems. Once an official acknowledgement is made, there must be solutions put in place, not the least of which is to restore the ancestral Black Hills to the Lakota people.

Economic development must also occur. The Lakota People’s Law Project will continue to advocate fiercely for Pine Ridge and all the tribes in South Dakota.

Please help us in our quest by donating here. We need all the help we can get.


Report: Native children in foster care are given dangerous drugs


The Lakota People’s Law Project’s latest report “The New Boarding Schools: Racial Biases in the State of South Dakota Continue to Fuel Constant, Willful Violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act” takes a look at South Dakota’s systematic violation of ICWA.

Along with looking at the revolving door between high-level state officials and healthcare industry operatives, the report delves into the disturbing trend of an increase in pharmaceutical medications in the foster care system.

South Dakota foster care prescription rates skyrocketed between 1999 and 2009, increasing by an enormous 370 percent. The consequences of over-prescription are troubling–permanently altering the mental, physical, and emotional capacity of users, particularly underage children.

Many doctors are emerging saying that psychiatric drugs can create permanent brain damage in children and young adults.

Most of the medications being prescribed are generally reserved to treat serious mental illness of the variety that is thought to effect just 1 percent of the country’s population.

The probability that the percentage of children in foster care have serious mental illness that would warrant such large government spending on these advanced psychiatric medications is statistically impossible.

Instead, what is more likely, is that the DSS and other state and private foster care agencies, use these drugs as a method of subduing children who have behavioral problems related to the trauma concomitant with being ripped from their families.

These symptoms, along with cultural differences that are often misinterpreted by the South Dakota Department of Social Services (DSS), contribute to faulty evaluations and unjust prescriptions.

The disturbing connection between state officials and members of the healthcare industry case suspicion on the profit motive as being a major reason these foster children receive these prescriptions. As more foster children face psychiatric treatment, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and private group homes such as Children’s Home Society of South Dakota stand to gain.

Current Governor Dennis Daugaard is the former CEO of Children’s Home Society.

Nationwide, The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is launching an investigation into the over-prescription of antipsychotics to children on Medicaid, and has already asked all fifty states to provide more oversight of these prescriptions. Medicaid more than doubled the amount it spent on antipsychotic drugs between 1999 and 2008, and now spends $3.8 billion on antipsychotics, more than any other class of drugs.

This alarming trend can be traced back to the The Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP), founded when former U.S. President George W. Bush was the governor of Texas. Under this program, which was created by pharmaceutical companies the correlation between mental illnesses and the drugs they are to be treated with has been standardized and incorporated into a flow chart that rather unsurprisingly often leads to medication as the solution to relatively benign and normal behavioral problems.

In court cases since, sales agents have admitted to aggressively marketing these drugs as a solution to mild childhood behavioral problems. Unfortunately, vulnerable children are currently falling prey to these questionable “standards” of medicine.

Often times, there is no one present to advocate for foster children and prevent them from falling prey to harmful prescription drugs. All medical decisions are made by the Department of Social Services, state courts, and the child’s doctor. If foster parents don’t follow through with prescriptions, they can be charged with medical neglect. People working in the best interest of these kids face a series of government obstacles.

While this problem is so large it even prompted an investigation by the San Jose Mercury News and our friend Karen Da Sa, The Lakota People’s Law Project believes it adversely affects Native children in foster care because they are often the most marginalized and are subjected to placement in state foster care at incommensurate rates.

LPLP  works to support Natives in our quest to found tribe operated social service programs.

We have secured two large federal grants for Native tribes in South Dakota to begin establishing their own child and family services and we are in the process of securing five more.

Please help us in our quest to end the illegal seizures of Lakota children from their families by donating here. We need all the help we can get.

We encourage you to read the rest of this new report to learn more about corruption in South Dakota as well as our mission to end it.

Report: Underlying racism behind seizures of Indian children


“The state does not make a good parent.”

So reads the quote by an anonymous DHHS administrator who works for the state of Maine.

In Maine, a consortium of government and tribal officials formed the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which explored the reasons why Wabanaki children enter Maine’s state foster care program at 5 times the rate of non-Native children during the past 13 years.

They released an 80-page report this week which concluded that Maine must improve Native child welfare in Maine by confronting:

1. Underlying racism still at work in state institutions and the public

2. Ongoing impact of historical trauma, also known as intergenerational trauma, on Wabanaki people

3. Differing interpretations of historical trauma

From the perspective of the Lakota People’s Law Project, the first problem to confront, both in South Dakota and throughout the United States is paramount.

In South Dakota, underlying racism is visible is in how the Department of Social Services rationalizes the seizure of nearly 740 children per year. Of these children, about 95 percent of them are taken due to “neglect”, which is different than abuse.

In other words, rather than children being taken away from families because of proximity to violence or abuse, they are being taken away because the non-Native whites in the state believe the conditions in which the Indian children are living in constitute neglect.

They are confusing poverty with neglect. And in so doing they are committing cultural genocide.

Indeed, Maine’s recent Truth and Reconciliation Report also concluded “disproportionate entry into care can be held within the context of continued clutural genocide as defined by the Convention on the  Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nationals General Assembly in 1948.”

Taking children from their Native tribes and forcing assimilation into the dominant White society leads to an erosion of culture.

A worker with the Maine DHHS said it was only after particpating in a training on the Indian Child Welfare Act and its historical background did he realize that he was unwittingly an instrument of genocide.

This worker slowly grew aware the child was “part of the tribe and for the welfare of that child to have a healthy well-functioning tribal community, I could see that as the presentation evolved, I started realizing, ‘Oh, my God! What this is saying is that I’ve been an agent of genocide.’ And of course, the word ‘genocide’ to me means killing people, but it means more than that: it means killing a culture, and I don’t think I ever thought of any of our practices as killing a culture.”

This comment provides indispensable insight into the thought processes of most state child welfare workers, who do not realize the extent to which they are participating in a system that is racist and an existential threat to the indigenous population of the United States.

Taking children from circumstances wrongly perceived as neglectful isn’t the solution. Instead, this society needs to harness that energy in addressing the underlying trauma that creates the social problems on the reservation that is leading to the systemic genocide of the Native people.

Report: South Dakota has financial incentive to take Indian children


The Lakota People’s Law Project has released a 35-page report entitled “The New Boarding Schools: Racial Biases in the State of South Dakota Continue to Fuel Constant, Willful Violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act.” “The New Boarding Schools” examines the dynamics which foster consistent corruption in the state of South Dakota when it comes to their relations to the Lakota people. A major thread in our findings was the financial incentives which fuel the fire of institutionalized abuse against Natives.

Figures detailed in our report show just how reliant South Dakota’s economy is on the federal money received to fund their Department of Social Services (DSS). A staggering approximation of $63,000,000 is received annually, determined in proportion to the Department of Social Services’ yearly activity.

Former state governor William Janklow once told NPR reporter Laura Sullivan that this funding is “incredibly important” to South Dakota, going on to say, “I mean look, we’re a poor state…We’re like North Dakota without oil. We’re like Nebraska without Omaha and Lincoln. We don’t have resources…We don’t have high income jobs. We don’t have factories opening here hiring people in high wage jobs.”

The stakes are high for receiving this valuable funding, which explains why South Dakota has historically bent over backwards to run their DSS in a way which maximizes profits. Since Social Security Title IV-E federal grant money is only paid to states when children are actually removed from homes and admitted into the foster system, it is in South Dakota’s best financial interest to do so–even when these seizures are largely unjust.

The inner workings of South Dakota’s DSS reveals more intricate channels by which financing can block justice. Private corporations such as Children’s Home Society of South Dakota (CHSSD) and Lutheran Social Services have strong ties to the system, both providing for and profiting off of DSS.

Major players in South Dakota’s family services system are often involved with both influential corporations and state government; so, in many cases, bending Indian Child Welfare Act guidelines acts as a fiscal benefit to these individuals both personally and professionally.

Our report illustrates this type of predicament in the case of current South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard. From 2003 to 2009, he served as Lieutenant Governor of South Dakota and CEO of CHSSD. Today, he serves as governor and CHSSD paid executive officer. With feet in both camps, Daugaard is certainly no uninvolved onlooker when it comes to social service decision making.

The topic of money in South Dakota is quite complex. Our full report looks at the topic as it fits within the bigger picture of the state’s functioning. The Lakota People’s Law Project encourages you to take a look at “The New Boarding Schools” and let us know what resonates with you.

Report: Government enacted “cultural genocide” against indigenous people


On Tuesday, June 2, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released a 365-page report that officially found that the Government of Canada was guilty of having committed “cultural genocide” against seven full generations of their Aboriginal People beginning in the mid 19th century and continuing up to and including the present.

The Lakota People’s Law Project asserts that, much in the way of the Canadian Commission, it should not only seek to repair the past crimes of the federal and state governments, but also explore the many ways in which those crimes are adversely affecting Native people currently. For example, the American People do not know that, of the 3,141 Counties in the entire United States, of the 11 absolutely poorest counties, 7 of those 11 counties are located on the nine Lakota Reservations in the State of South Dakota.

“It is time for our United States Government to fully investigate, officially acknowledge, and take active steps to overcome the consequences of the systematically criminal policies that it – and its state governments – have persistently perpetuated against our American Indian population,” said the Lakota Nation’s Chase Iron Eyes, the Chief Legal Counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Office. “Such a public reckoning is long overdue.”

The Lakota People’s Law Project, the only Indian-advocacy group that has worked actively, for ten years, alongside tribes in South Dakota to put a stop to South Dakota’s systemic and persistent violations of ICWA, has demonstrated that the racist attitudes of the boarding school era linger in South Dakota today.

“The bottom line is that white people believed and continue to believe their form of civilization is superior and that Indian culture is inferior,” Sara Nelson of LPLP said. “We are witnessing rapacious natural resource extraction companies continue to plunder mother nature, contribute to climate change and imperil the very future of the human family.  To claim superiority over a culture that commanded masterful husbandry of natural resources, lived sustainably, and left no footprint on this continent is absurd. If we are all going to survive on this planet, we must humbly face the crimes of the European model, correct the injustices, and work together on sustainable models that respect the laws of nature.”

Tribe Rejects $1.15 Billion From Energy Company

British Columbia

High Country News reported that a Malaysian energy company recently offered a $1.15 billion package deal to the Lax Kw’alaam First Nation, a tribe in Northern British Columbia, in return for the right to build a natural gas export terminal on the tribe’s lands. Each tribe member would have received nearly $260,000 (CAN $319,000); however, accepting this offer would have meant placing the local salmon habitat at risk.

Placing the safety of their land over money, the community unanimously voted against the terminal on May 13th.

“Hopefully, the public will recognize that unanimous consensus in communities against a project where those communities are offered in excess of a billion dollars, sends an unequivocal message this is not a money issue: This is environmental and cultural,” Garry Reece, the mayor of the town of Lax Kw’alaams, said in a statement announcing the vote.

The Lax Kw’alaam First Nation’s stand against fossil fuel energy companies is certainly an inspirational act. In a world where pollution and the over-extraction of resources are rapidly harming our planet, it is encouraging to see people stand up for and protect the land, even when that means sacrificing large monetary offers such as this.

“No mitigation can pay for the magnitude of destruction to treaty resources for today and generations from now,” said Brian Cladoosby, the chair of the Swinomish Indian Tribe.

Many Native tribes understand the importance of protecting the land and its resources. The Oglala Lakota tribe of South Dakota, for example, has been fighting against the Keystone XL Pipeline which would transport Canadian tar sands oil through to the U.S. Gulf Coast. In 2012, tribe members held a protest in which they blockaded Highway 44, preventing tractor-trailer drivers bound for the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada from passing through.

“The threat to our drinking water is so enormous that any number of jobs, any kind of economic development, would be irrelevant when our water is contaminated without the possibility of being cleaned up,” said Debra White Plume, one of the protesters.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota similarly protested the Keystone XL Pipeline, and had even stated in February 2014 that they recognized the U.S. House of Representative’s authorization of the pipeline as an act of war. The Lower Brule Lakota Sioux Tribe of South Dakota also recently invoked a clause from the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 (the “Bad Men” clause) in order to prevent the foreign tar sands pipeline company TransCanada from extracting tar sands from the land. For these tribe members, no amount is worth sacrificing the well-being of the environment.

The Romero Institute, the umbrella organization to which the Lakota People’s Law Project belongs, is likewise very concerned when it comes to environmental rights. In 2007, the Romero Institute initiated a successful campaign to stop the California State Department of Food and Agriculture from spraying a synthetic pheromone which posed serious health and environmental risks to the Santa Cruz community.

The Romero Institute continues to bring awareness to both environmental threats and the dangers that corporate capitalism poses to the planet, and we greatly support the actions of these tribe members.

Unfortunately, there are many who oppose the actions of tribe members who wish to save their land. Throughout the world, the rate of environmentalists and indigenous peoples who are murdered is rising. This is an atrocity that must be addressed. It is important that the governments around the world put the lives and safety of their citizens and environment above corporate greed.

Please help us bring about awareness to this serious issue and support the tribes in their efforts to protect their land from energy corporations.

Visit the Romero Institute’s Facebook Page to learn more about our cause.