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Read the Report Here

“Enough words, enough rhetoric, my people have been robbed with false promises for centuries.  We want action.

"We want an investigation into the corruption in South Dakota. We want robust enforcement of ICWA and actual punishment for state officials that fail to follow it.

"We want money and training to build our own foster care facilities to protect our children who are sacred. We want it now.”

Bryan Brewer

Former President, Oglala Sioux Tribe

May 13th, 2015

The Lakota People’s Law Project released a 35-page report today that reveals how private institutions and their cozy relationships with those in the highest seats of power in South Dakota are responsible for the daily violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the systemic human rights abuses against the Lakota population in Indian Country.

“We have been working tirelessly to secure enough Baucus Bill planning grants so that tribes in South Dakota can begin to bypass the abusive state institutions such as the South Dakota Department of Social Services,” said LPLP Attorney Chase Iron Eyes. “This report shows unequivocally that South Dakota officials cannot be trusted to maintain the welfare of Indian people. Quite the opposite, the history of racial hostility coupled with the fact the state has found diabolical ways to make money off of tearing apart Indian families demonstrates how urgently tribes must assert sovereignty and put an end to this reprehensible abuse.”

Some of the main findings of the report include:

  • Naming officials who have conflicts of interest including South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, Department of Health Director Kim Malsam-Rysdon, former Department of Social Services Director Deb Bowman, State Attorneys Dan Todd and Kim Dorsett and State Senator Alan Solano.
  • Identifies the mechanisms by which the aforementioned officials benefited either in their official public capacities or in private capacities including reimbursing contractual payments with federal dollars and using their offices to leverage contracts for private institutions they worked for/at.
  • Exposes the racist underbelly of South Dakota’s state system, which targets the most disadvantaged group in the state and identifies the Department of Social Services as the division most responsible for the system-wide willful violations of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
  • Shows the intersection between the pharmaceutical industry and the foster care system, where those in Big Pharm used disadvantaged foster care children to enhance revenue by encouraging doctors to prescribe off-label use of powerful antipsychotic medication for mild behavioral issues.
  • Reveals the antecedents for the introduction of powerful medication as being traceable back to a program called TMAP.
  • Properly frames the current ICWA crisis in a historical context, including how Indians have been deprived of access to their own resources and how South Dakota is launching an assault on the last remaining resource — the children.

“It’s not as though South Dakota corporations looking to profit off of the nation’s most vulnerable population had to hire a bunch of high-priced lobbyists,” said LPLP Chief Counsel Daniel Sheehan. “Instead, they were appointed or elected to those offices and then used their power to reward themselves and their business partners.”

The Lakota People’s Law Project has been working on the child seizure crisis in South Dakota for more than a decade and has found that despite only comprising 9 percent of the child population, Indian children account for 54 percent of the foster care population.
Ever since award-winning investigative journalist Laura Sullivan released a three-part series on National Public Radio that showed South Dakota uses Lakota Indian children and their special needs status to enrich themselves with federal dollars, the reunification rates have not gone down, but continued to climb.


“South Dakota isn’t budging,” said Chase Iron Eyes. “There have been no admissions of guilt, no acknowledgement of their shortcomings or vows to do better. The only way this situation will improve is if the Department of Justice launches a full scale investigation into the endemic corruption that continues unfettered in this state.”

The ACLU recently successfully tried a case in Pennington County
(Rapid City area) that found South Dakota judges, attorneys and members of the Department of Social Services conspiring to deprive Indians of their rights under ICWA and the 14th provision of the United States Constitution.

“The case represents an important victory,” said Brian Brewer, former President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “However, the federal government can’t participate in a case that covers one legal issue in one county in South Dakota and feel satisfied that these persistent problems have been addressed. The DOJ must notify the judges in other counties about this ruling and tell them to amend their own procedures or risk legal action. Ultimately we are talking about a defiance of federal law that is put into practice throughout the state that begs legal repercussions for the people in power.”

Executive Director of Lakota People’s Law Project Sara Nelson believes the report will underscore the urgent need for the nine Lakota tribes to have Child and Family Service Programs run independent of South Dakota and by Lakota, for Lakota.

“How do you solve this problem? There is only one way,” Nelson said. “The level of corruption shown in this document proves that South Dakota is unrepentant. How do you stop South Dakota from seizing Indian children in record numbers? You take away the financial incentive that presently exists.  How do you stop South Dakota from feeding Indian foster care children harmful pharmaceutical drugs that are leading to suicide? You provide the tribes with the necessary federal dollars to create their own foster care facilities where they are better positioned to care for their own children.”

The urgency of the level of the crisis is finally documented in this report, the sixth research effort produced by the Lakota People’s Law Project.

“The issue of ICWA is usually framed by the cultural necessity to have our children grow up in our culture, our language, our history,” said Chase Iron Eyes. “The importance of this cannot be overstated. But that isn’t what we are talking about when it comes to the current crisis. We are talking about children getting kidnapped at alarming rates because a handful of powerful government operatives have figured out it financially benefits themselves, the state as a whole and their business partners. We are talking about children being used as guinea pigs as rapacious pharmaceutical companies increase their profits at the expense of a vulnerable population whom we are collectively failing to protect. We are talking about human rights abuses, about ripping apart families and stuffing children full of medication that detrimentally impacts their present and future mental health.”

President Brian Brewer, who went to Washington D.C. as part of a Lakota People’s Law Project delegation, said its time for federal officials to get off the dime.  “Enough words, enough rhetoric, my people have been robbed with false promises for centuries,” he said. “We want action. We want an investigation into the corruption in South Dakota. We want robust enforcement of ICWA and actual punishment for state officials that fail to follow it. We want money and training to build our own foster care facilities to protect our children who are sacred. We want it now.”