Nov 8 4:26 PM

‘The Fight for Native Families’

Fault Lines for Al Jazeera America

From the halls of the Supreme Court to the reservations of the Great Plains, “Fault Lines” examines why so many Native American children are caught in the child welfare system.

“Fault Lines” travels to South Dakota, where Native children are only 13 percent of the children in the state but more than 50 percent of those in foster care. The majority are placed with non-native families, in group homes or institutions. For the Lakota people here, the issue isn’t just about child custody, it’s about cultural survival.

At the heart of the debate is the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal law which says that except in the rarest circumstances, Native American children must be placed with their relatives or tribes. It’s been nearly 35 years since the ICWA became law, and in the time since then the number of Native children placed in non-Native care has barely budged. Three tribes in South Dakota and several native mothers charge that officials in Pennington County are violating the ICWA and have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state. They argue that native parents aren’t given fair court hearings and children are being removed for unjustifiably long periods of time.

On the nearby Pine Ridge reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe, social workers, tribal judges and community members are trying to keep native families together, despite  staggering unemployment, problems with drug and alcohol abuse, and a juvenile suicide epidemic.

With the ICWA making headlines over the recent Supreme Court verdict on baby Veronica, highlighting longstanding tensions about forced displacement of Native children, “Fault Lines” examines why so many Native American children in South Dakota are caught in the child welfare system and what tribal families are doing to fight it.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Mathieu Skene, SENIOR PRODUCER: Carrie Lozano @carrielozano, CORRESPONDENT: Wab Kinew @wabkinew, DP: Andy Bowley @revelstokia, ADDITIONAL CAMERA: Omar Duwaji @mideasternist, PRODUCER: Cassandra Herrman @Cassandra_H, EDITORS: Gail Huddleson, RESEARCH & PRODUCTION ASSISTANCE: Special Thanks to Rachel Witte @rachel_witte, with additional assistance from Yousur Alhou, Sweta Vohra @svohra Archive material courtesy of: Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA, Getty Images, Historic Films Archive, Julie Missing, Native News Network, Native Sun News, Thomas Pierce, Sandy White Hawk, Victoria Wicks
‘In the 1950s came the Indian Adoption Project. Native children were taken by social workers and missionaries and placed in white homes. By the time ICWA was passed, more than 25 percent of Native children had been removed from their families.’

from ‘The Fight for Native Families’

‘Fault Lines’ on Al Jazeera America

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