Justice Department Speaks Up for Native Americans

While President Obama catches endless political flak for inactivity on key political issues, his Department of Justice is blazing ahead with a number of key actions designed to protect and defend minorities in the United States.

The latest is an amicus brief in an important case currently taking place in South Dakota, where the Department of Child Welfare is being accused of seizing Native American children from their families and placing them in the custody of the state at a rate disproportionate to that of children of other races. This is such a widespread issue across the United States, where Native American children were historically removed from their families and placed in white homes, that the Indian Child Welfare Act specifically addresses it, mandating that Native children be kept in their communities via any means possible before being turned over to the state or to families of other races.

South Dakota’s actions have become so egregious that they were discussed by the United Nations, where a report on racial discrepancies in child welfare cases was discussed during a session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Notably, the “trials” involved in deciding whether children should be removed from their families have been run more like “kangaroo courts.” Sometimes they last less than a minute, with parents unable to present any information in their defense, and on some occasions, family members have been present and willing to take custody, but the court has refused to grant it. In 99% of hearings, children are remanded to the custody of the court. Children have also been taken from their families for spurious reasons, raising concerns about whether child welfare officials can be trusted to act responsibly in the case of Native families.

For an illustration of the severity of the problem, Native children in South Dakota account for 54% of the children in the foster care system. By contrast, only 13.5% of the child population in the state is Native American. A disparity this dramatic highlights that there are deep problems in the system, which is why the Native American community is suing state officials. The case has attracted the attention of the DOJ, which has been monitoring cases involving the ICWA, and this time, it’s taken action, with an unprecedented commentary on the case — it has never spoken up on this level before, and it weighed in solidly on the side of Native children.

The DOJ intervention reflects the department’s increased interest in weighing in directly on key social justice issues, working to rectify structural injustices that harm minorities. It’s also sending a clear signal not just to South Dakota, but to other states with a critical imbalance in child custody cases. The U.S. government has officially indicated that it’s suspicious about the number of Native children winding up in state custody, and that it wants to see child custody and welfare cases conducted properly, with ample notice, time to gather supporting evidence and time for parents to actually defend their cases in court.

Child welfare services should be about protecting children, and in many cases, the priority of such departments lies in trying to keep children with their families at all costs. For Native children, the opposite seems to be true, and this is something that needs to change. The outcome of this case could become a key piece of caselaw that determines the fate of Native children across the United States well into the future.

Photo credit: Grand Canyon National Park Service


Randy D.
Randy Davis4 years ago

Oh yes! It has happened here in Sampson County NC - To me this year! Same EXACT scenario!

JL A4 years ago

Kudos to the DOJ

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore4 years ago

Too bad this won't lead to more people, politicians included, to remember that in the viewpoint of many descendants of survivors of 1492 you and I are the descendants of illegal immigrants from the Old World... .

Patricia Guilhem
Patricia Guilhem4 years ago

C' est vraiment triste. L' homme blanc a massacré les indiens, les a mis dans des parcs et leur a interdit de continuer à vivre avec leurs coutumes. Mais tout cela était il y a bien longtemps, enfin....c' est ce que je pensais. Il y a toujours de la discrimination envers ce peuple. Tous les hommes ont le droit de vivre comme ils veulent. Je pensais que les indiens étaient enfin respectés à notre époque. C' est une honte.

Carol Ann O.
Carol Ann O4 years ago

I am curious to hear what "spurious" reasons means... I am an R N who is obligated by Law to report dangerous conditions upon home health visits and never heard this term . Was there abuse,, filth, alcoholism/ drug use? There are many reasons to intervene, but rarely is a child removed to a strangers care until all other possibilities are exhausted.

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

Where have you been all these years of land and water rights grab, unacceptable livable housing, education, etc?

New voting block must be sorely needed. Bet the on-site voting locations removed will now be quickly reinstated, wmaking the heretofore lengthy and often impossible trip to a designated area somewhat more possible.

NEWS FLASH ... people are NOT stupid, those few who actually represent the people will be OK, otherwise don't bother courting. These people are not stupid.

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisle4 years ago

This is one of the ways that Democrats are miles ahead of Republicans.
At least it is some respect for the indigenous peoples.

Donnaa D.
donnaa D4 years ago


Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Anne F.
Anne F4 years ago

Important policy action by the President and his cabinet secretary. We need to bolster schools and famlies on reservations, not put more little ones into state custody