Today marks a huge legal victory for the Native American children of South Dakota. A summary judgement was issued in the case of Oglala Sioux Tribe vs. Van Hunnick in favor of the plaintiffs!
Federal Court Judge Viken has ordered that South Dakota offficials have violated due process as stated by the 14th Amendment and the Indian Child Welfare Act, "The court finds that Judge Davis, States Attorney Vargo, Secretary Valenti and Ms. Van Hunnick developed and implemented policies and procedures for the removal of Indian children from their parents' custody in violation of the mandates of the Indian Child Welfare Act and in violation of he Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."
RAPID CITY, S.D. – In a sweeping victory for Indian families, a federal court has ordered South Dakota officials to stop violating the rights of Indian parents and tribes in state child custody proceedings on several grounds.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Rapid City attorney Dana Hanna on behalf of two South Dakota Indian tribes – the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe – and Indian parents who suffered the loss of their children at the hands of the state.
The lawsuit in part charges that Indian children are being removed from their homes in hearings that lasted as little as 60 seconds, and that parents have no chance to present evidence. In a 45-page ruling issued late yesterday, Chief Judge Jeffrey L. Viken wrote that "Indian children, parents and tribes deserve better," agreed with all seven of the ACLU's claims, and ordered the state to:
Provide parents with adequate notice prior to emergency removal hearings
Allow parents to testify at those hearings and present evidence
Appoint attorneys to assist parents in these removal proceedings
Allow parents to cross-examine the state’s witnesses in the hearings
Require state courts to base their decisions on evidence presented during these hearings.
The court also found that the state violated the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law designed to ensure the security and integrity of Indian tribes and families. The law is intended "to curb the alarmingly high rate of removal of Indian children from Indian parents."
"Indian children are being removed from their homes without giving parents and tribes any valid chance to respond. These reckless practices have led to enormous suffering BY Indian children and their parents, and the unnecessary breakup of Indian families. This important ruling should help keep this from happening in the future," said Stephen Pevar, an attorney with the ACLU's Racial Justice Program. "We are very grateful that Judge Viken is putting an end to years of violations of basic rights."
The defendants are State Judge Jeff Davis, Pennington County Prosecutor Mark Vargo, State Director of the Department of Social Services (DSS) Lynne Valenti, and Pennington County DSS employee Luann Van Hunnik.
"All praise and honor should be given to those tribes and to the Lakota parents who have fought for the rights of all Indian people in this historic legal victory," said co-counsel Dana Hanna.
The lawsuit, Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik, was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota in Rapid City.