All posts by Eliza Racine

Judge to Pay for Indian Child Welfare Act Violations

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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.

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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

Check out our new Truth and Reconciliation t-shirts for sale:  https://romero-institute.squarespace.com/lakotalaw-store/

Pipeline Leak Increases Concerns in Native American Communities

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What was originally estimated as a 187 gallon Keystone Pipeline oil spill in Freeman, South Dakota has now drastically increased to nearly 17,000 gallons. TransCanada, the energy company that created the Keystone Pipeline, shut it down for repairs and cleanup when a leak was reported on April 2nd. No threat to the environment or public health was reported, and the pipeline is running again at a reduced pressure.

Despite TransCanada’s quick response, the threat of environmental damage still worries environmental activists and especially Native American communities, who oppose further construction of pipelines. This leak is the Keystone Pipeline’s 35th since it was established in 2010. It should have been reported by one of TransCanada’s automatic monitoring systems, but was instead found by local farmer Loren Schultz.

According to a report by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), the leak was caused by a problem in the welding that connected the pipes together. The pipe that failed was made by Welspun,  headquartered in India, which is known for their low-quality pipes.

These developments are fueling concerns from communities like the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, who face the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline being built on their water supply in the Missouri River. There is a high possibility that Dakota Access, the company building the pipeline, will repeat the same mistakes as TransCanada. This time, a leak could bring more severe damage, considering it would contaminate the water supply that thousands of people rely on.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, recently approved by the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), will run from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa, and will end in Patoka, Illinois. Dakota Access still needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources before constructions begins. However, none of the Sioux people on the nearby reservations were consulted about the pipeline crossing over their water supply, and their pleas for it being built elsewhere are being ignored.

The Dakota Access Pipeline violates the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act, since its construction over a body of water was not authorized by the U.S Congress. It also violates the National Historical Preservation Act because the reservation is home to sacred Native lands and the burial site of the Lakota leader Tatanka Iyotake, better known as “Sitting Bull.” The IUB is also facing a lawsuit from the Northwest Iowa Landowners Association, which argues that Dakota Access has no right to seize property for the pipeline.

According to Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault, the Dakota Access Pipeline not only threatens their water supply, but also sacred natural lands where eagles gather every spring.

“We still exist and we need to protect what little we have left because so much as been taken from us,” Archambault said in an interview with RT America.

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to more carefully review and revise its preliminary plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline, adding there should be a closer look into the impacts a spill would have on drinking water for Native American tribes. If a proper investigation is not done and the Corps approves the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Standing Rock Sioux Nation is prepared to sue for environmental and historical preservation violations.

Dakota Access claims to care about the surrounding communities, but their actions have proven the opposite, they’re blinded by dollar signs and are spewing lies meant to comfort and assure people that nothing will go wrong. Considering how prevalent leaks are, the Dakota Access Pipeline will leak sooner or later, especially if they choose to cut corners and buy the cheapest pipes like TransCanada. Energy Independence should not come at the cost of endangering thousands of lives, forcibly taking property and destroying the environment—TransCanada and Dakota Access would beg to differ.

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Image Source: http://www.mobridgetribune.com/?p=11959

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

Check out our new Truth and Reconciliation t-shirts for sale:  https://romero-institute.squarespace.com/lakotalaw-store/

Department of Education to Preserve Native Languages

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One hundred and thirty-seven Native American languages face extinction, but a recent federal grant may help reverse this trend.

The U.S Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition recently announced the availability of $3.2 million in grants for the instruction of various Native American languages. Administered under the Native American and Alaska Native children in School Program (NAM), the grants also plan to be used to increase English-language proficiency among Native American students.

Since 2008, NAM has received $40.3 million in grants from the Department of Education to help Native children prepare for college and future careers. Despite help from the Obama Administration, Native American students still have the lowest graduation rate at 67 percent as of 2015.

These grants are small steps in the right direction to reconcile with Native Americans by improving their educational funding, and helping preserve their cultures after decades of cultural genocide.

Studies prove that fluency in one’s Native language is correlated with grounded self-identity, as well as improved academic performance, two areas where Native Americans have unduly suffered as a result of the late 19th century boarding school era policy.

From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, more than 100,000 Native American children were forcibly taken from their families and sent to boarding schools federally funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which sought to assimilate Native Americans to white society. At these schools, the students were brutalized emotionally, spiritually, and even physically, sometimes to the point of death. They were taught to be ashamed of their cultural activities and languages and were severely punished if they practiced them.

The boarding school policy inflicted severe inter-generational trauma within Native American communities, and is directly linked to the ongoing loss of language and culture. Take the Lakota language for example, where the median age of a Lakota language speaker is higher than the average life expectancy of a Lakota tribesperson. Fifty-four Native American languages are now extinct, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Generations of Native Americans have been robbed of the opportunity to learn the languages of their ancestors, and are losing major aspects of their cultural identities as a result of the boarding schools.

While these boarding schools shut down by the 1970’s, cultural assimilation did not end. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was enacted to protect Native American children from being unfairly taken and placed in non-Native homes. However, Native American children continue to be placed in foster care at alarming rates, where they represent two percent of all children in foster care, but only make up one percent of the total child population.

In South Dakota for example, Native Americans comprise half of all children in foster care even though they only make up 13 percent of the child population. The boarding school policy’s goal of cultural assimilation is being fulfilled through ongoing ICWA violations and the rampant placement of Native American children in foster care.

Even in public schools today, Native American children, like Malachi Wilson, are sent home for wearing traditional hairstyles, and are sometimes ordered to cut their hair to suit school dress codes.

With these new grants, there is hope for Native Americans to rightfully take back their cultures and be proud in them without punishment. Ideally, the grants are expected to also improve graduations rates and set up students for bright futures in college and future careers.

The U.S government is headed in the right direction with helping fund Native American K-12 schools. However, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission must take place to fully acknowledge the ongoing cultural genocide, bring cultural assimilation to an end, and preserve what Native cultures are left before they are lost to our human history forever.

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Image Source: http://lakhota.org/learn-lakota/self-study/

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

Check out our new Truth and Reconciliation t-shirts for sale:  https://romero-institute.squarespace.com/lakotalaw-store/