Set against a barren, poverty-stricken reservation in the hills of South Dakota, a National Public Radio (NPR) story published in 2011 shed light on a problematic issue that has been happening to Native Americans across the country — state-sanctioned kidnapping of Native children. Now, one of the story’s main sources has been arrested by the very officials whom she spoke out against.
Janice Howe, 54, had her grandchildren taken away by the Department of Social Services (DSS) after a social worker said her daughter was going to be arrested for drugs. Two of the four children were buckled into a DSS car and driven away, but Howe’s daughter was never arrested.
The children had been gone for a year and a half. Finally, Howe went before the Crow Creek Tribal Council to tell her story. The meeting ended with a resolution to charge the state with kidnapping if it did not return the children. A few weeks later, a car pulled up to Howe’s home and the two girls came running for their grandmother.
The girls had forgotten their native dance. One girl said that after she wet her pants, her foster parents told her to wear her underwear on her head. At this point, the DSS agent told Howe that the children’s return was only a trial run, and that they could be taken again at any time. What Howe and thousands of NPR listeners judged as carrying out the parental duty to protect one’s children, the DSS viewed as a subversive move to challenge its authority.
Four years after the NPR story broke, Howe was arrested. The charges? Perjury for writing her two sons’ names on a petition she was collecting signatures for in 1999 and forging checks while working as a nurse in 2000. Howe pleaded guilty to a single felony count in each of the two cases, the charges for which were filed in 2002. South Dakota prosecutors waited 13 years to see to Howe’s charges.
The fact that they waited so long to handle her case demonstrates how minor they thought these charges were. It was not until a few years after the NPR story broke that South Dakota realized how influential Howe’s voice had become in the fight for justice for Native Americans and their children. Once the NPR story horrified thousands about the corruption in the state, South Dakota officials knew that one way to subdue the growing national movement that would sabotage their profits would be to take down one of the movement’s most well known whistleblowers.
A spokeswoman for the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office said, “there’s nothing politically motivated here,” in a Washington Post article. However, Howe’s family insists that the arrest is Attorney General Marty Jackley’s way of retaliation.
“It is Jackley. He’s the one who wants to get payback from her,” said Howe’s husband Louis Adrian, according to the Capital Journal.
The idea that Howe’s arrest is politically motivated is not unfounded. In 2010, Richard and Wendy Mette were arrested for raping and physically abusing their adopted Lakota daughters. Richard Mette often made the girls choose between “a beating or BJ.” The case was spearheaded by an Assistant State’s Attorney Brandon Taliaferro and Court Appointed Special Advocate Shirley Schwab.
The DSS investigated the Mettes twice before, once in 2001 and again in 2007. Pornography was found openly around the house both times, but the Mettes were still allowed to keep the girls. A few months into the case, it was announced that the case would involve a lawsuit against the DSS for failing to prevent any further abuse after the investigations. Almost immediately, Taliaferro received a direct order from Attorney General Jackley that he would be fired from his position and an investigation and lengthy legal battle was launched against both Taliaferro and Schwab.
The charges made against Howe are petty and insignificant, and her activity was in no way malicious — unlike the activity that Jackley and other corrupt South Dakota officials have engaged in. Howe’s activism has made her a target in the eyes of the state, and according to state officials, she must be punished. Bringing up Howe’s minor charges from the past is yet again another blatant example of South Dakota officials subverting attention from their malfeasance. They want to distract the public from the much larger issue of kidnapping and cultural genocide, of which they have been the biggest linchpins.