We’ll never adequately summarize, in a few paragraphs, Suzette Brewer’s well-written account for Indian Country Today of a South Dakota lawsuit that claims state and local officials violate the rights of Indian parents and tribes in state child custody proceedings.
We just recommend you read it. It’s the first in a series.
Part I details how two attorneys – one in Connecticut, one in South Dakota – came to believe South Dakota officials were systematically removing Indian children from their families and tribal communities without proper hearings, violating the constitutional right to due process and the Indian Child Welfare Act.
As Brewer writes about one of the lawyers, Dana Hanna of Rapid City:
Hanna, whose case was next on the docket, was going over briefs when he became aware of the case being presented to the judge, involving two Indian parents. He glanced up, and says he saw something extraordinary happen.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw: The parents were not advised of any rights—no rights—the prosecutor read a brief statement, the judge turned to the parents and said, ‘Do you have anything to say?’” Hanna recalls. “They said they wanted their children back. But the court granted DSS’s petition for custody and foster care placement of their children for the next 60 days, and then scheduled the case for an advice of rights hearing two months down the road.
“They were advised that they had some legal rights two months after the state took custody of their children and placed them in foster care!”
The other attorney, Stephan Pevar, national staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, became aware of similar allegations while listening to National Public Radio on his way home from work in Hartford, Conn.
Late last month, South Dakota’s attempt to dismiss the case was denied by a federal judge.
– Vince Devlin