ICWA guidelines sustained by Court


Guidelines supplementing the Indian Child welfare act were sustained in a legal battle between the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the National Council for Adoption in another attempt to weaken ICWA’s power.

In 2015, guidelines created by the BIA to assist government agencies and courts in better understanding how to apply ICWA were falsely criticized as binding law. On Tuesday, October 20th, the federal court prevented the guidelines from being withdrawn. The purpose of the guidelines is in defining what the legislation means in terms of custody and other legal issues pertaining to American Indian Children. Yet, the National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona families wanted them erased.

Federal Judge Gerald Bruce Lee denied the National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona Families standing to withdraw ICWA guidelines put forth in 2015 by the BIA.

The ICWA was passed in 1978 by Congress to address and prevent the alarmingly frequent abuses taking place against American Indian children in State foster care systems, by placing them in foster care that was on reservation and tribally managed. The ICWA also attempts to ensure that a child’s placement within foster care would be with American Indian families.

While it is a federal law, the ICWA continues to be violated, where families or tribal members who are willing to adopt are ignored, resulting in their placement in non-Indian homes. In light of this, the BIA released a set of guidelines in February 2015 to provide suggestions about how courts and agencies should engage with custody, adjudications, and post-trial rights relating to ICWA cases.

In an attempt to have them withdrawn, the National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona Families argued that the recently added guidelines violate APA (Administrative Procedure Act, 5. U.S.C, 551-706) by existing as a policy that forces other agencies to abide by guidelines. Both adoption agencies went as far as blaming the guidelines for time spent and money lost through abiding by them.

Federal Judge Gerald Bruce Lee reasoned that the National Council for Adoption and Building Arizona Families did not have standing to ask for the withdrawal of the BIA’s February guidelines.  In his decision he said, “Plaintiffs [National Council/Arizona Families] cannot assert injury in fact for voluntary compliance with guidelines they acknowledged had no binding effect and no enforcement mechanisms.”

The decision asserted that the resources lost by abiding by BIA guidelines cannot be sued for, since the adoption groups were never forced to follow them. Furthermore, while the guidelines remain as suggestions for agencies and courts, they do not have to be binding or abide by APA standards.

This legal victory, in defense of guidelines seeking to ensure ICWA’s adherence, is a reminder of our much needed vigilance in the continual struggle to protect the rights of American Indian children.


State Laws Look to Prohibit Offensive Mascots

blogpost redskins        Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper created a task force Tuesday, October 6th to address the offensive representations of American Indians as mascots in his state. As a result, schools with mascots like the Lamar High School Savages and Eaton Reds may be forced to come up with new icons. In hopes of reducing and eliminating derogatory mascots that trivialize and disrespect American Indians, Hickenlooper’s task force includes representatives from both education and indigenous groups including: the Southern Ute Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute tribe, Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, Denver American Indian Commission, and Native American Rights fund. 

        This task force looks to address the disrespectful use of mascots by creating an open dialogue between school, community, and Indigenous representatives. Furthermore, the task force will reach out to communities affected by these mascots. The task force will also create lists of recommendations for the State of Colorado to correct and address the insulting mascots.

        The dehumanization of American Indians is ingrained in society and taught to be acceptable, as evidenced by sports mascots like the Washington Redskins. Imagine if a team adopted the team name Yellowskins or Blackskins, and presented a stereotypical image for the mascot, the public would be in uproar. People are failing to hold American Indian culture up to the same levels of cultural protection, this is a result of their culture being hidden and constantly undermined. American Indians are among the most marginalized peoples in the United States, and until the media recognizes offenses to American Indian culture as equally harmful and disrespectful as offenses to other cultures, the dehumanization of American Indians will continue.

        Hickenlooper’s task force seeking to dismantle the misuse of American Indian culture is an example of a growing recognition nationwide for regulations preventing the trivialization of American Indians through offensive mascots.The California Racial Mascots act was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 11th,  which specifically bans the use of mascots that offend or trivialize American Indian culture.

        The California Racial Mascots Act specifically defines Redskins as a derogatory term, and prohibits public schools and sports teams from adopting such a name. Furthermore, the law requires that schools currently using a derogatory mascot or name change to an icon that does not trivialize culture. To ensure that the law is complied with, the California Racial Mascots Act will help subsidize the costs associated with changing mascots and purchasing new gear.  

        Governors Brown and Hickenlooper set an example for addressing problems of cultural degradation for American Indians in the United States. Offensive mascots impact the lives of American Indians by creating an environment that celebrates the disgrace of American Indian culture, and laws that look to address inequality in the United States have always been necessary to help fix marginalization. By looking at Colorado and California, hopefully other States can follow suit and help prevent the offensive use of American Indian mascots.


Bush and Trump: Redskins mascot not offensive


This week, Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump declared they have no problem with the Washington “Redskins” name, and that it should be kept as the team’s official nickname. The Lakota People’s Law project believes that this nickname and other use of Natives as mascots are disrespectful to Indians and trivialize important elements of their rich cultural heritage.

When asked about his opinion of the moniker, Trump declared that he knows, “Indians that are extremely proud of that name, they think it’s a positive.” However, he was unable to specifically identify any Native friends that actually did support the name.

Trump has a poor record when it comes to fair representation of Native peoples. In 2000, he funded a smear campaign against the St. Regis Mohawk tribe of New York as a response to their planned casino that would have rivaled his own. Earlier, in 1993, he testified before the House Subcommittee of Indian Affairs that the Mashantucket Pequot Nation was a fabricated group, and that they did not “look like Indians” to him. Trump cannot be trusted to authentically speak for Native Americans.

Bush offers no improvement. When asked his beliefs on the Washington Redskins in a Sirius XM interview, he replied, “I don’t find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive.”

Unsurprisingly, these two white men are not offended by a dictionary defined racial slur pertaining to Natives. However, various groups and organizations collectively representing 1.5 million Native Americans have called for the team to change its name and mascot.

A spokesman for the anti-Redskins campaign Change the Name released a statement, saying, “What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, (Bush) somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive. He clearly is missing something. What is even more appalling is the governor’s declaration that because he personally doesn’t find this slur offensive, that makes it acceptable.”

Native Americans are a historically underrepresented group in American Politics, which makes them an easy target for politicians and entertainers. Some politicians however, like Republican representative from Oklahoma Tom Cole, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation, agree that the mascot is offensive.

“Come on. This is the 21st century … It is very, very, very offensive. This isn’t like warriors or chiefs,” said Cole. “It’s not a term of respect, and it’s needlessly offensive to a large part of our population. They just don’t happen to live around Washington, D.C.”

Congressman Cole brings up an important point: Native Americans are often marginalized and disenfranchised in the United States, as a result of the mistaken belief that they are all ‘gone’ or living on dusty, windswept reservations in the middle of nowhere. This expressly racist perspective forwarded by men who are running for the highest office in this nation only further cements this misperception and actually compounds it.

The truth is that Native Americans are an essential part of the American fabric, and in pop culture and beyond, they deserve to be represented in a way that reflects dignity and pride, not characterized by a racist joke from the 18th century.

The Lakota People’s Law Project does not take positions on political campaigns, but we urge our followers to keep Native American issues in the topmost of their priorities when casting votes in any political election.

South Dakota secretively eliminates Native history from public schools


New changes to the South Dakota K-12 curriculum have eliminated Native American history from required standards, making it possible for a child to graduate without relevant knowledge about the struggle of the Lakota and other tribes to retain their ancestral land, or their survival in the face of repeated attempts at ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide.

Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, high school students will have the option to choose from early American history, Modern American history, or comprehensive American history to fulfill their only history requirement. As a result of these standards, the Colonial Era, the American Revolution, African slavery, Manifest Destiny, the Civil War and the Women’s Suffrage movement will no longer be a part of required curriculum.  While some students will still have the option to take Early American history, many will graduate without understanding these important historical events that continue to affect this nation.

Professors at Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University, Northern State University, Augustana University, Presentation College, the University of Sioux Falls and Black Hills State University, have all criticized the new curriculum. They argue that students will not be prepared for college level history courses with such a weak high school class schedule. Ben Jones, dean of arts and sciences for Dakota State University in Madison, as argued that the new standards are “disabling their citizenship”.

However, the endemic problems with South Dakota’s new education policy go further than properly preparing students for postsecondary education and raise concerns about how depriving students of historical context could compound racial iniquities in a state that is increasingly known for its racial practices toward Indians.

Racial attitudes toward Native Americans, often resulting in outright discrimination, continues unabated in South Dakota. This virulent strain of prejudice is perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the unjust and despicable practices of the state Department of Social Services against Lakota families, who face much higher rates of child removal and much lower rates of family reunification that non-Native families, even when poverty is accounted for.

The removal of lesson plans relating to the long and complex conflict between Native peoples and the United States Government will only exacerbate this issue, and make it harder for young people in South Dakota to develop a fair understanding of the historical context and causations for the current conditions faced by Native peoples.

Instead of eliminating early American History classes, so necessary to the proper development of informed citizens, the state of South Dakota should be aggressively creating programs about Native history and culture. The only way to develop future solutions to the problems afflicting Native and non-Native in South Dakota, is for all citizens to have a baseline understanding of the historical antecedents to those current problems.

Teach the children about Squanto and the Patuxet Indians, who aided the first Colonists in Massachusetts. Teach the children about how the Iroquois Confederacy was the first democratic institution in what is now known as the United States.

Teach the children the wisdom of Sitting Bull, who said “White people are good at making things, but very poor at distributing them. Teach them about the Ghost Dance and massacre at Wounded Knee, the Sand Creek Massacre, and other genocidal acts.

Teach them about the Trail of Tears, the theft of vast tracts of Indigenous land, much of which was sacred and has since been sullied by extractive industries seeking wealth and personal enrichment.

Finally, teach the children that all of these abhorrent policies have created the current situation, where Indians are relegated to second class citizens in a land that is rightfully theirs. Teach the children they have a noble obligation to remedy this dreadful circumstance and honor the cultural diversity that continues to inhabit this nation. Teach them that Native Americans are still here, as a strong and dynamic part of modern America.

The rich history of their culture and people deserve official recognition at the high school level in South Dakota. Anything less is an ill-advised attempt to willfully keep a segment of population ignorant, so in their studiously designed stupidity they are better equipped to accept and tolerate blatant injustice. South Dakota can and should do better. Much better.

Student fights for Indigenous perspective in college history class

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If the Native communities in the United States are to truly heal from the grievous injustices that have been perpetrated against them for four centuries and counting, a true reckoning of the genocide that took place on this continent is imperative.

However, recent events demonstrate this vision is not yet a reality.

Last week, a Cal State Sacramento sophomore of Navajo descent, Chiitaanibah Johnson, was shocked to hear one of her professors trivialize the atrocities committed against indigenous people by suggesting that genocide was too strong of a word to describe the actions of colonists.

Professor of U.S History, Maury Wiseman, preached that native groups were already violent towards each other before the arrival of Europeans, and that it was the introduction of foreign diseases that decimated the Native populations, rather than specific harmful intentions from settlers.

Johnson felt that this position did not fully reflect the truth of what had transpired, and went home to do her own research on the matter. When she challenged her professor at their next class, and argued for the inclusion of discussions about Native technology, society and spirituality in the course, Professor Wiseman grew hostile. When she refused sit down and accept his version of history, Wiseman ended class and told Johnson she would be expelled from his course. Johnson states that she had ‘zero support’ from her classmates during the confrontation.

Wiseman’s claim that the term ‘genocide’ is not applicable to the devastation of North American peoples is controversial, as many of his peers find it to be wholly appropriate. David Stannard, a historian at the University of Hawaii, described the plight of Native Americans as the “worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed, roaring across two continents non-stop for four centuries and consuming the lives of countless tens of millions of people.”

In his position, Wiseman overlooks the multitude of unjust and officially sanctioned deportations inflicted upon native peoples by the Federal Government, the most famous of which being the ‘Trail of Tears, a forced march of the Cherokee Nation from their legally protected homeland in Georgia to a reservation in Oklahoma, a trek on which thousands died.

He also fails to account for the countless massacres enacted against Native peoples by US troops, such as the one which occurred at Wounded Knee in 1890, where three hundred men, women and children were killed. Webster’s dictionary describes genocide as, “the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation”. The events described, and many others, clearly fit that definition.

Johnson and her family are speaking with administrators in hopes of reconciling the situation amicably, and are hopeful it will be resolved soon. However, this episode is a sad reminder that the history of Native Americans continues to be marginalized and distorted by the mainstream.

By denying a history of oppression towards the Indigenous community, people like Wiseman not only derelict the historical record, but also gloss over the reasons why many Native American communities are having such trouble in the present times. Yesterday matters only so far in that it helps to understand and correctly perceive today. It is essential that we improve the American people’s understanding relative to the history of this Nation and Indigenous Americans, so collectively acknowledge the crimes of this guilty nation and move forward to address them.

Indian Country Beware: Another Legal Assault on ICWA

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Yet another major lawsuit attacking the Indian Child Welfare Act was filed in federal court last month, demonstrating the existence of a coordinated and well-funded effort to undermine a law that is so vital to the preservation of Native heritage.

The latest suit, filed in Oklahoma, alleges ICWA violated the constitutional rights of an Indian couple by allowing tribes to intervene in the adoption. The suit hinges primarily on their right to not have medical records disclosed to tribes and further alleges the couple should be allowed to decide the placement of their child without interference from tribal entities.

The Lakota People’s Law Project believes the plaintiff’s legal position is absurd on its face. Moreover, this attack on Native rights demonstrates why ICWA needs robust protections from adoption agencies and attorneys who make large profits off of wresting Indian children from their families and placing them in white families where they are cut off from their heritage, culture and language.

The suit is one of four major lawsuits filed in four different courts by plaintiffs closely connected with adoption-industry lobbying groups.

Our organization finds it hard to believe that four separate Indian parental units in four separate states have come forward after conducting a detailed analysis of ICWA and determining the long standing law, intending to protect the integrity of Native culture, was standing in the way of their constitutional rights.

The more likely scenario, in our view, is that these Indian couples/parents, were approached and recruited by lawyers affiliated with the adoption industry. It is highly likely that these Indian mothers and fathers were somehow persuaded to act as plaintiffs in these suits.

The United States Adoption Industry is a $13 billion a year industry, according to Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, an expert on adoption issues who has been writing a blog since 2005.

The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys is a visible and aggressive consortium that has formed around the adoption-industrial-complex, which proves especially lucrative for adoption attorneys. In the latest suit, the attorney for the plaintiffs, Paul Swain, has been a member of AAAA since 2009. He claims to specialize in interstate adoption, contested adoption among other aspects of adoption law.

As our most recent press release states, AAAA President Laurie Goldheim revealed the organization’s plan of attack in a webinar entitled “A Call to Action Regarding the BIA Guidelines.”

“The Board of Trustees voted to include the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys as a plaintiff in a lawsuit being filed in federal district court challenging both the Guidelines and eventually the rule,” Goldheim said during the webinar. “We are exploring the opportunity for a political solution with our lobbyists and others to determine if there can be an impact/solution in Washington, D.C.”

Again, it’s exceedingly difficult to believe this organization genuinely thought the rights of Indians were being violated by a law enacted to protect their heritage and culture; rather, it’s much more likely this organization is intent on removing an impediment to their ongoing personal enrichment on the backs of impoverished minorities.

The fact that they would use the U.S. Constitution as a means of doing so, shows the level to which they are willing to stoop to exploit impoverished Indian mothers.

The lawsuit in Oklahoma is now one of four lawsuits filed throughout the United States, attacking ICWA, state laws that further enhance the protections in the federal law and the federal guidelines that were released by the BIA earlier this year in reaction to the consistent and flagrant violations of the law in South Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma, Maine and elsewhere.

We need your help. Write your representative. Write op-eds to your local papers. Tell your friends.

As Turtle Talk, an Indigenous Law and Policy Center Blog, published the following when the first few lawsuits were filed:

“This should be a call to arms for Indian Country. [These groups are] presumably well-funded organizations with a litigation, scholarly and public relations strategy. Indian country lost Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl because the adoption industry won the PR battle before Indian country even noticed. It’s time to act.”

Please help us by singing our petition. Please donate to our cause here.

South Dakota officials arrest woman who spoke out about state-sanctioned kidnapping

Lakota People's Law Project attorney Danny Sheehan gives Janice Howe the 1,200 letters of support from people who read the National Public Radio (NPR) series "Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families." You can watch a video of Danny giving Janice the letters here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gji9F23ssUY
Lakota People’s Law Project attorney Danny Sheehan gives Janice Howe the 1,200 letters of support from people who read the National Public Radio (NPR) series “Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families.” You can watch a video of Danny giving Janice the letters here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gji9F23ssUY

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.