I never realized what assimilation was or is. I never gave a thought about genocide or Manifest Destiny and I thought the holocaust only pertained to what Hitler did to the Jewish people. And it didn’t matter to me, because I never gave a thought about it. I was busy living life as I knew how, a Lakota woman. I was raised in our traditional ways but never taught all those things until I was older. I just thought life was about being traditional, with our ceremonies, songs, traditions, and ways. Sure, I went to a Christian church with my friends, went to Vacation Bible School for a popsicle, and I tested out other religions as if dipping my toes in cold lake water, but I never felt right about it. I didn’t feel wrong about it, I just felt as if it wasn’t my thing. And I made my way back to who I was and who I knew myself and my people to be. Lakota. That is where I belonged and where I feel centered.
The first time I realized that a child raised without their culture and forced into another way of life develops a huge hole in their soul was in college. I read an essay by a Vietnamese American student. She was adopted as a baby, from Vietnam, by white parents here in America. She was given a good life, she was raised with little blonde brothers and sisters and she had a suburban sounding name like Caitlyn or something. She did everything right and everything she was supposed to do in life, plus she won a scholarship to a college away from her family. It was her first time on her own and she discovered herself questioning who she was. She was drawn to other Asians and began hanging out with them. She learned of their likes, dislikes, cultures, foods, and she felt “at home and at peace.” Many of them were also adoptees, taken from their families and countries and grew up American. They were drawn to each other to fill a need in their souls. Yet she felt this with a great deal of guilt towards her American family. She loved her adopted family but felt at home, finally, with her friends, who in turn felt the same.
That is the first time I realized how taking the culture away from someone can be somewhat traumatic or really traumatic. How lost it makes that person feel. As I grew older and started seeing cases of this same thing happening with my own Native people and it was shocking. I remember the first time, was when I met a lady in her twenties. I saw her at the casino we both worked at and asked her what tribe she was from. She became angry and said “The lady that gave birth to me was from so and so reservation but I’m white. I grew up white. I was raised white, so don’t ever ask me that again.”
All I could say was “Whoa.” I stood there shocked. I never in my life met another Indian who hated being Indian, and she had to nerve to say she was white, when she was a few shades from midnight? That’s when someone told me she was raised in a foster home, who eventually adopted her.
I began then to understand what it meant to be assimilated and colonized. I began reading of our history and how children were taken by the US government from Native families once they were put on reservations. Children were forcefully taken out of their homes at the age of 5 and put in residential schools until the age of 18. They made handcuffs so small to detain these children. They were beaten for speaking their language, hair was cut, and all for the purpose of “Kill The Indian, Save The Man.”
This generation was our grandparents and great grandparents, who suffered physical, sexual,and emotional abuse in the residential schools. They were never given the chance to heal because these stories were never told. They were kept on the down low by the Catholic church and the government who ran the residential schools. Many of these boarding schools who are now in operation are now making monetary payments, now wanting to hear the stories of abuse and now trying to make amends. After a few were hit with class action lawsuits.
The next generations, also suffered and still suffer. By the foster care systems. Children were taken from their homes and given to white foster families to raise. The families receiving funding for every foster child, would often take on many foster children. The state holds the households they take the children from to the standards set by white society. Without ever listening to how we set family structures, how we take care of our own, or how we live with our traditions, they set everything up to fit a mold, that they live by.
Based on a 1976 study by the Association on American Indian Affairs found that 25 to 35% of all Indian children were being placed in out-of-home care. (Eighty-five percent of those children were being placed in non-Indian homes or institutions.) Congress then passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. § 1901) in 1978 in order to keep American Indian Children with American Indian families.
However, this is not being followed in South Dakota. Why? Because South Dakota has a dirty little secret. According to a wonderful and very thorough investigation by National Public Radio that inspired me to find my brother who was lost for 21 years due to failure of the fact that DSS didn’t follow ICWA regulations and place him with family. I was 19 years old when he was taken from his mother. I was employed and had my own place and he was 8 years old. When I asked them why they didn’t ask me, all they said was sorry and also ,sorry we can’t help you find him now. That is when I began to search for him and I also began to investigate why so many of our Indian children in South Dakota are taken from their homes and placed in Non-Native homes, this is when I found their dirty little secret.
South Dakota’s Department of Social Services receives money for Native children they take custody of. They receive more money than the non-Native children they take from their homes. Native children in South Dakota make up 15% of all the children of South Dakota, yet over half the children placed in foster care are Native. And only 13% of those children are placed in Native foster homes. While Native foster home sit empty for months. South Dakota removes children from their homes at a rate 3 time higher than any other state. But according to state figures, less than 12 percent of the children in foster care in South Dakota have been actually physically or sexually abused in their own homes. That’s less than the national average.
I still didn’t get to the dirty little secret yet. South Dakota, years ago, designated all Native children as “special needs.” Which means every Indian child in every school benefits that school with more funding and it also means that every Indian child taken from their home by DSS benefits South Dakota more than non-Native children. And although the state says they match all the money coming in from the feds dollar for dollar, the match is not exact. According
to records from 2010, the feds reimbursed the state three quarters for what it spent on the children they removed from their homes. There is also an adoption incentive program nobody hears about. The federal government gives the states $4,000 for each child who is placed into adoption from foster care. That amount is $12,000 for “special needs” children. And of course over half the children removed from homes in South Dakota are Indian children, who, you guessed it, are designated by the state as “special needs” just for being American Indian. The state has made almost a million dollars in the last ten years off of our most precious resource. Our children. They moved us to dry, barren lands that cannot be farmed, the took the gold and every resource from the lands they stole. And now they are after our children.
Why is this not making a splash? Why is it not news? Especially , in South Dakota? Because they will go to any length to cover up what they do to take our children away. Even as our children are being violated in the homes they are placed in. Here is one case that will blow anyone’s mind and still has yet to reach the media in South Dakota.
Former assistant state attorney Brandon Taliaferro and court appointed child advocate Shirley Schwab go to trial tomorrow, January 7, 2013 for crimes they didn’t commit. Mr. Taliaferro and Ms. Schwab have been indicted by SD Attorney General Martin Jackley with witness tampering and disclosure of confidential, Department of Social Services information. They are being accused of these crimes for encouraging two teenage Lakota foster girls to tell the truth about being molested by their non-Native foster parent, who is now serving a 15 year prison sentence for rape of a child under 10.
According to the Daily Kos: Mr. Taliaferro and Ms. Schwab now assert that South Dakota is engaged in a criminal conspiracy to discriminate against Lakota foster children and their mothers, fathers, grandparents and relatives. “It is financially beneficial for the DSS to remove American Indian children from their homes and place them in [white] foster homes,” said Attorney Taliaferro to the Aberdeen News on December 19, 2011. “[Had I followed] the orders of [my boss with respect to the Mette investigation, it] would have required [me] to violate the law, and ethical rules that govern attorney conduct.” Mr. Taliaferro asserts that in 2011 he refused to participate in “a cover-up of misconduct” by the DSS.
The charges are believed to be a direct response to Mr. Taliaferro and Ms. Scwab for criticizing the state’s payroll during the NPR investigation. According to reporter Stephanie Woodard in her article for 100 Reporters “Rough Justice In Indian Child Welfare” where two state Department of Criminal Investigation agents are seen on a Youtube video planning the cover-up by the state against Mr. Taliaferro and Ms. Schwab. They are unaware, that though they are off camera, they left their microphones on.
This is all dirty, low down, Gestapo like tactics used by the Department of Social Services . And it shows how far the state will bend, how low they will go, to keep the millions of dollars they have coming in by stealing yet again from the Indigenous people of this land. Instead they don’t take from the land, they take from the womb.
They won’t get away with this much longer. Something has to be done.