South Dakota Judge Jeff Davis agreed to pay $50,000 to plaintiffs from the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux Tribes for attorneys’ fees after a 2015 ruling found he had violated the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) on numerous occasions.
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in 2013, claiming that Pennington County officials were wrongfully taking Sioux children from their homes. The custody hearings held by 7th Judicial Circuit Judge Davis lasted less than five minutes, sometimes as little as sixty seconds. Parents were not allowed to see the evidence against them, produce their own evidence or cross-examine witnesses.
Judge Jeffrey Viken ruled in favor of the two tribes in 2015. In the 45-page ruling, Viken ordered South Dakota officials to hold fairer removal hearings, including adequate notice beforehand and final decisions based on evidence from both sides.
Davis continues to adamantly deny ever withholding information from those hearings. His blatant disregard for federal law and constitutional rights reflects the vast history of mistreatment against Native Americans.
ICWA was enacted in 1978 to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families,” after thousands of children were wrongfully taken from their homes during the Boarding School Era. ICWA limits when Native American children can be removed from their homes, and places them in Native American foster or adoptive families so they do not lose connection to their cultural roots.
However, the law is rarely enforced as Native American children are still put in foster care at an alarming rate, making up two percent of total children in foster care even though they only make up one percent of the child population. In the state of South Dakota alone, which is most notorious for ICWA violations, more than 750 Native American children per year are placed in foster care and make up more than half of the state’s foster care population despite only making up 13.8 percent of the state’s child population.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission needs to take place to address the ongoing mistreatment against Native American families. This commission would document stories of survivors from the Boarding School Era and investigate how the boarding school policy continues to impact Native American communities today. For more information about Truth and Reconciliation check out our website.
The lack of ICWA’s enforcement continues what the Boarding School Era started: destroying future generations of Native Americans by ripping children from their families and cultural roots. However, there is hope for a reversal of this trend with this victory for the Sioux tribes. Only time will tell if the officials will follow through with the hearing and properly follow federal law.
Check out our report calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission: http://lakotalaw.org/special-reports/truth-and-reconciliation
Please sign our petition calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission: http://lakotalaw.org/action
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