Monday, December 8, 2014

US D o J expresses commitment to Indian Child Welfare Act

NPR reported today that Attorney General Eric Holder last week "planted the Justice Department firmly on the side of tribes against states, as the tribes struggle to keep their families together."  Laura Sullivan reported that the federal department was "redoubling" its support for the Indian Child Welfare Act, which "attempts to keep Native children close to their relatives and tribes, even in cases where they may have to be removed from their parents."  Holder suggested that his department is hiring more attorneys to work on such matters, including "culling through the stat court cases looking to file briefs 'opposing the unnecessary and illegal removal of Indian children from their families and tribal communities."  He also acknowledged that removals are sometimes done "by those acting in bad faith."  According to Sullivan's story,
Those possible bad actors are state social service agencies and even judges who push for the removal of Indian children in cases where removal may not be warranted, or they fail to place Native children with their relatives, their tribes or Native American foster families when they are removed.
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This summer the Justice Department intervened for the first time in its history in a federal district court case in South Dakota, concluding that the state has violated the rights of Native American parents. 
Two of the state's largest tribes argued that the state has removed children in hearings where parents were rarely allowed to speak and often lasted less than 60 seconds. The children were then placed indefinitely in largely white foster homes. 
Stephen Pevar, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit along with the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes, called the hearings "kangaroo courts." 
"There was nothing — nothing — that any of the parents did or could have done," Pevar said. "It was a predetermined outcome in every one of these cases."
A 2011 NPR investigation determined that American Indian children in South Dakota were being removed from their families at rates far higher than the national average.  NPR also found that most of those children were placed in non-Native homes or group homes, in contravention of the ICWA. 

Read more here (including an interesting discussion of the financial incentives states have for removing these children), along with an ombudsman's assessment of NPR's reporting on that matter here.

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