A federal court has dealt another blow to defendants in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over the rights of Native American families in South Dakota.
Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken denied government officials’ motions for reconsideration of his order to them last March to stop violating the rights of Native American parents and tribes in state child custody proceedings.
“Once again the court has ruled that Native American children, their parents, and their tribes are entitled to fair procedures whenever the state seeks to remove children from their homes, as required by federal law,” Stephen Pevar, an attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, said in a news release.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Rapid City attorney Dana Hanna on behalf of two South Dakota tribes — the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe — and Native American parents who suffered the loss of their children at the hands of the state.
The lawsuit in part charges that Native American 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. Last March, the court agreed with 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, a federal law designed to ensure the security and integrity of Native American tribes and families. Late Friday, Viken issued a ruling rejecting defendants’ motions to reconsider; one final outstanding claim concerns whether the state Department of Social Services is returning Native American children in foster care to their homes as quickly as federal law requires.
The defendants are state Judge Jeff Davis, Pennington County prosecutor Mark Vargo, state director of the Department of Social Services Lynne Valenti and Pennington County DSS employee Luann Van Hunnik.
The lawsuit, Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik, was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota in Rapid City.