Are you a Native American in South Dakota? If so, watch out. The state might be coming for your children.

In 2011, National Public Radio concluded a year-long investigation into some egregious abuses of the Division of Child Protective Services (DCPS) of the state of South Dakota.  In a state where Native Americans constitute 15 percent of the population, over half of the children in the DCPS system are Native American.

NPR reporters Laura Sullivan and Amy Walters put their keen investigative skills to the task to show that what the State is doing is actually not in the interest of the child! How surprising!

They report that while some children are moved from their homes for legitimate reasons, “in South Dakota very few are taken because they’ve been physically or sexually abused.” Instead, they are pulled for a “subjective set of circumstances.”

That’s a very, uh, kind way of saying these children are ripped from their families and placed in “group” homes or in foster homes of mostly white folks for no good damn reason.

Boy, this sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” anyone? Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot that many American history classes gloss over that particular nugget of history. For those of you who don’t know, the United States decided, in the 19th and 20th centuries (up until the 1970s!) that forcibly seizing native lands wasn’t enough. They had to take native children, too, and “educate” them in the ways of being “civilized.”

South Dakota seems to have forgotten that Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act way back in 1978 in order to stop such practices. “Except in the rarest circumstances,” the Act says,  “Native American children must be placed with their relatives or tribes.  It also says states must do everything it can to keep native families together.”

According to the NPR report, 32 states do not abide by it.

Surely, the state can’t want more of a burden on itself, seizing children that clearly do not need to be taken. Caring for children is hard! Why, then, is South Dakota doing this? Easy, NPR says. Businesses in South Dakota are raking in money off of it, and they are in cahoots with the state government.

Critics say foster care in South Dakota has become a powerhouse for private group home providers who bring in millions of dollars in state contracts to care for kids. Among them is Children’s Home Society, the state’s largest foster care provider, which has close ties with top government officials. It used to be run by South Dakota’s Gov. Dennis Daugard. . . . Daugard was on the group’s payroll while he was lieutenant governor — and while the group received tens of millions of dollars in no-bid state contracts.

Even more appalling, according to NPR, “The state receives thousands of dollars from the federal government for every child it takes from a family, and in some cases the state gets even more money if the child is Native American.” South Dakota now removes children at a higher rate than the majority of other states.

I’ll wait for your cries of shock. Here before us we have one of many examples of abuse of state power that trashes lives of individuals, families, and communities.

Granted, there are some circumstances where removal of a child from a horrible familial situation is truly warranted, but, often the very interventions designed to protect the child, can and often do create more problems for the individuals and families they are supposed to “help.”

The more I researched this story, the more furious I became at this continued outrage against Native American people, their communities, their tribes, their families, and finally, the children whose lives these agencies and individuals are supposed to protect.

It is an outrage that must stop.

[Editor’s Note: I am aware that earlier this year a blogger for NPR took great issue with the original report, but NPR has decided to stand behind it. For my part, I have seen enough abuses of the state to believe that this story is likely accurate, and that raising awareness of the issue is important here. South Dakota is being investigated by several federal agencies on these claims. As such, I believe this story needs to be run. ~GL].