I came across an article a while back that was so bewildering I didn’t believe it. I did some digging and found others that made me change my mind. If you come to these facts with a desire to give our government the benefit of the doubt, you may dismiss them as inaccurate. You might reject them as a “smear campaign,” one that resurrects a dead policy and passes it off as something that still thrives.
In 2017, nearly 52% of children in South Dakota’s foster care system were Native American. To give you context, Native peoples make up less than 9% of the state’s population. That’s an extraordinary over-representation. According to a 2015 complaint filed by the ACLU, custody hearings involving Native children were held within 48 hours of that child’s removal from his or her home, without counsel or a copy of a petition provided to their parents accusing them of wrongdoing. No state witnesses were called to testify either. No, this isn’t an Orwellian reimaging of the United States. In his ruling, a federal district court judge that same year confirmed these allegations and others that comprise a shocking pattern of misconduct.
The forced removal of Native children from traditional homes was so rampant that in 1978, Congress passed The Indian Child Welfare Act. That law was enacted to counter decades of policies that uprooted as many as 35% of Native children nationwide, placing them into non-Native families and religious groups. Now, in the supposed age of accountability and transparency, state and local officials are in open violation of it.
Naysayers will point to domestic abuse, poverty and addiction as likely reasons for re-placement. Yes, drug addiction is crippling tribal communities. Abuse and poverty are too, but there are more compelling arguments. Every time the state places a child in foster care, the federal government sends it money – about $4,000 per child, according to a 2011 Think Progress article. If a child has “special needs,” the state can get as much as $12,000 for him/her. In 2001, South Dakota designated all Native American children as “special needs.” You can play devil’s advocate and say that that money goes to foster parents and social workers, not into the wallets of state officials. But there must be something nefarious behind a policy where custody hearings last fewer than 5 minutes (some no longer than 60 seconds), and where the state wins 100% of the time.
Ellison had a word for it.
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