Chairman Don Young, Congressman Kevin Cramer, and other distinguished committee members, I want to thank you for this opportunity to address child protection and the justice system on the Spirit Lake Reservation.
My name is Elizabeth Sharon Morris. I am the widow of Roland John Morris, a U.S. citizen of 100% Minnesota Chippewa heritage who was born and raised on the Leech Lake Reservation, speaking only Ojibwe until he started kindergarten. I am the birth mother, grandmother, foster and adoptive mother to several enrolled or eligible members, and an aunt and sister-in-law to dozens. I was an accepted ICWA home for seventeen years.
I am also the Chairwoman of the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare, a national non-profit founded by my husband and myself in 2004. CAICW represents children and families across the nation who have been hurt by federal Indian policy – most notably the Indian Child Welfare Act – and who, as U.S. citizens, do not want tribal government control or interference in their family’s lives.
Our interest in Spirit Lake stems from not only having been contacted by several Spirit Lake residents asking for our help and prayers, but from a very personal level as well. My husband’s 16-yr-old grandson was shot and left for dead in a field at Spirit Lake on July 26, 2013. To this date, no one has been charged for the attempted murder of my husband’s grandson.
Family members have their own story of what happened and who shot him, but just as with so many traumatic abuses happening at Spirit Lake, Leech Lake, Red Lake, White Earth, Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Flathead Lake, Blackfoot, Warm Springs, and many other reservations – family talk is all there is. Violent crime goes often unreported, or when it is reported, nothing is done. While details of the shooting of my husband’s grandson remain unclear, the fact is that another child was hurt in the ongoing violence without anyone being charged for it – despite Spirit Lake being under the direct oversight of the BIA, FBI and U.S. Attorney. We look forward to and request an investigation into the real facts.
Drug and Gang Activity:
The family talk is that Jr. possibly stole drugs or money from his father, who is a member of a Minneapolis gang dealing drugs on the Spirit Lake Reservation. The two started physically fighting in the field, and family members report that Jr. was “getting the best” of his dad when he was suddenly shot. It is unclear whether it was his Dad or uncle who shot him.
Some might say that Jr., nearly an adult, asked for trouble. Others point out that his Dad is a member of a gang, selling drugs openly at Spirit Lake despite the ongoing presence of the BIA, FBI, and U.S. attorney – and that Jr. is another young person caught up in the climate of crime and violence so many children are threatened with in Spirit Lake and other reservations.
A 2013 ABC news article about gang activity on reservations reported:
“In the latest case, investigators said they were targeting a criminal enterprise that used intimidation and violence to maintain power. Prosecutors said the case was important not only because of its size, but because the racketeering charge is rarely used against gangs.
“The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment called the Native Mob one of the largest and most violent American Indian gangs in the U.S., most active in Minnesota and Wisconsin but also in Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is made up of mostly American Indian men and boys, and started in Minneapolis in the 1990s as members fought for turf to deal drugs. The Native Mob is also active in prison.
“The Native Mob had about 200 members, with a structure that included monthly meetings where members were encouraged to assault or kill enemies, or anyone who showed disrespect, according to the indictment. Authorities said McArthur would direct other members to carry out beatings, shootings and other violent acts to intimidate rivals.”(KARNOWSKI, 2013)
Jr’s Dad was arrested and jailed for two days, but then released. As far as the Leech Lake family knows, nothing has happened since.
Misrepresentation of the Needs of Children:
So much for what many tribal leaders, along with their friends at the Casey Foundation, NARF and NICWA, glowingly refer to when they say family is the “single most important mechanism of [Ai/AN] culture.] (Cross, 1995a, p. 3) and separation most assuredly endangers the child.
It is these very organizations that, in our experience, are a huge part of the problem in Indian Country as they continually infer that leaving children in dangerous homes on the reservation rather than providing them with safety and stability is not only better for the children – but somehow an inherent need.
They advocate leaving defenseless children in dangerous situations, arguing that only tribal government truly knows what they need and can care for them. They have convinced society that interference is akin to child abuse on the rescuers part – and possibly even a form of genocide.
This argument is made even if the tribal government does not have a working system to care for the children. This argument is made so often and so forcefully that it is believed, even as real evidence shows to the contrary.
A July 12, 2013, commentary in North Dakota papers, attorneys rebuked a local politician’s outcry over the murder of Spirit Lake 3-year-old Lauryn Whiteshield. Rushing and Moddelmog stated, “studies showed that American Indian children who have been removed from their ethnic and cultural heritage often suffer a host of psychological and identity issues, not counting the damage caused by the initial removal.” (Moddelmog, 2013)
The study referred to by Mr. Rushing and Mr. Moddelmog, just as with a 2012 NPR series purporting to investigate ICWA abuse (Ombudsman, 2013), was seriously flawed and came to extremely questionable conclusions. Tribal government apologists claim that children of even minute heritage who’ve never lived anywhere near a reservation or with a tribal member are going to suffer identity issues, as if there is an inherent gene that makes these children different from any other. In some circles, that is referred to as “racism.”
Interestingly, without any concern for psychological effect, ICWA is frequently used to remove children from non-Indian homes that better reflect the cultural heritage they are most comfortable with (ethnicity does not determine cultural heritage) than a home on the reservation.
It is also often claimed that Native American children do not need to live “by European Standards.” In 2006, an attorney for the Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona, in attempt to justify taking children from a home they loved and placing them in a potentially unsafe home with strangers, claimed in an Arkansas court that Native American children don’t need beds and are content sleeping on floors. (Morris, 2007)
That statement is not only offensive and insulting, but untrue. Again, as a mother and representative of many families, I can attest that most of the children we are connected to would prefer a bed over a floor. Sometimes in our family’s chosen poverty, our children have slept two to a bed – but they would rather that than sleep on the floor.
Rushing and Moddelmog conclude with a quote from Judge William Thorne that “more than 60 percent of American Indian children in non-native foster care who age out of the system “are homeless, in prison, or dead by age 20.” They neglected to quote comparison percentages for children raised in foster care chosen by tribal government. Further, these children were fostered due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Many suffer with fetal alcohol related issues. How can one assume the sole reason for struggle is due to non-native homes?
This line of reasoning appears to be believed even as it flies in the face of common sense. There is factually no DNA to make children need a particular heritage or upbringing. In fact, the Human Genome Project has proven that no separate classifiable subspecies (race) exists within modern humans. In other words, there is no genetic racial difference between a person of Indian heritage and a person of English heritage. There exists only familial genes for facial structure, hair texture, eye color, and similar individual traits. This means it impossible for any entity to know the emotions and needs of a child if they do not have active knowledge of or relationship with that particular child.
Therefore, there is nothing a tribal social worker inherently knows about a child simply due to the child’s ethnic heritage. This includes children of 100% heritage who have been raised totally apart from the tribal community. A qualified expert witness needs to be someone who has not only met the child, but has worked with the child, is familiar with and understands the environment the child has thus far been raised in, and has professional experience with some aspect of the child’s emotional, physical or academic health. This is far more important than understanding the customs of a particular tribe.
To believe that one group of children is inherently more comfortable with and accepting of less safety and security than any other group of children is the epitome of racism. Believing such things might make it easier for federal government officials to deal with the human crisis on many reservations, but it is not unlike the degrading claims made against persons of Jewish heritage as part of Nazi rationale for putting them in slums. It is shocking that these unfounded assertions are coming from tribal leaders and their supporters – the very people who claim to represent the best interest of U.S. citizens of Native American heritage.
This is a huge disservice to the well-being of children – including my own and those we represent – who are individuals, not tribal assets, and who have their own voices, feelings, thoughts, goals, motivations and needs – none of which appear to be described accurately by these entities.
As the birth mother to several children of heritage, I strongly attest that my children have needed and thrived on safety, stability, and love. Like most people, they have had some interest in the various heritages of ancestors, but there has been no inherent need to be raised within Native American culture any more than that of their German Jewish or Irish Catholic heritages.
As the chairwoman of an organization representing families across the country – I attest the same for the families we represent. Safety, security and love are the vital needs of their children.
Former ND Lt. Governor Lloyd Omdahl stated in a July 1, 2013 news commentary that ICWA is “sacrificing children to protect the heritage of the tribes.” This appears to be the case every time tribal sovereignty is used as the reason to keep a child in dangerous home rather than choose a non-tribal home. (Omdahl, 2013)
Lauryn Whiteshield of Spirit Lake is one example. Other examples around the country include:
1. A Detective in Bonney Lake, WA, was forced by ICWA social workers to leave a toddler he’d been raising at the home of suspected drug dealers. The child was forced to stay there about 6 months before he was moved somewhere else. (Belford, 2012)
2. Because social workers believed ICWA demanded it, the Rodriguez boys of California were taken from the home of Hispanic grandparents and placed with their maternal grandmother on the Ute Reservation – a woman who’d abused and lost custody of her own kids. Within three weeks, the oldest was permanently brain damaged from being beaten. (Smart, 2004)
3. Sierra McGaughey, who joined us in DC in February, 2013, told Congressional staff she was torn from a safe home outside the Leech Lake reservation at the age of nine and placed in a relatives’ home, where she was given to a man as a sexual partner. She begged to return to where she felt loved, but wasn’t allowed to until she tried to hang herself at age 16. (Tevlin, 2013)
These are just some of the many stories.
Quoting Mr. Omdahl, “It is time to take another look at the federal foster care and adoption policy that keeps Indian children in homes that threaten their well-being while safe homes are automatically ruled out.”
Criminal elements have taken over whole communities on many reservations because state and county law enforcement can’t reach them as easily within reservations boundaries. Further, casino money on reservation land is more profitable, and money can be made with drugs on the reservation. As these criminal elements moved in, many non-criminal tribal members have purposefully taken their families and moved out.
According to the last two U.S. censuses, 75% of tribal members DO NOT live in Indian Country – and many, like our families, have deliberately taken their children and left in order to protect their families from the rampant crime and corruption of the reservation system.
As a result, it isn’t just the lack of licensed foster homes plaguing Spirit Lake and other reservations – it is the inability to meet the mandates of the Indian Child Welfare Act in the form of safe, willing, relative homes. The lack of safe homes of relatives is what brings tribal governments to make placement in the homes of unsafe relatives.
– Thomas Sullivan concerning unsafe relatives:
Thomas Sullivan, Regional Administrator of the Administration of Children and Families in Denver, stated in his 12th Mandated Report concerning Spirit Lake to the ACF office in DC, February 2013:
“In these 8 months I have filed detailed reports concerning all of the following:
1. The almost 40 children returned to on-reservation placements in abusive homes, many headed by known sex offenders, at the direction of the Tribal Chair. These children remain in the full time care and custody of sexual predators available to be raped on a daily basis. Since I filed my first report noting this situation, nothing has been done by any of you to remove these children to safe placements.
2. The 45 children who were placed, at the direction of Tribal Social Services (TSS), BIA social workers, BIA supervised TSS social workers and the BIA funded Tribal Court, in homes where parents were addicted to drugs and/or where they had been credibly accused of abuse or neglect. Since I filed my first report noting these placements, nothing has been done to remove these children to safe placements. I trust the Tribal Court, with the recent resignation of a judge who failed a drug test, will begin to be responsive to the children whose placements they oversee.
3. The 25 cases of children most of whom were removed from physically and sexually abusive homes based on confirmed reports of abuse as well as some who still remain in those homes. Neither the BIA nor the FBI have taken any action to investigate or charge the adults in these homes for their criminally abusive acts. Many, of the adults in these homes are related to, or are close associates of, the Tribal Chair or other Council members.
“Since I filed my first report detailing these failures to investigate, charge, indict, prosecute those adults, my sources and I have observed nothing to suggest this has changed. Those adults remain protected by the law enforcement which by its inaction is encouraging the predators to keep on hunting for and raping children at Spirit Lake.
“When was the last time the US Attorney indicted a child rapist at Spirit Lake? How many child rape cases from Spirit Lake has he declined to prosecute during the last 18 months? How many Spirit Lake child rape cases have been prosecuted during those same 18 months? (Sullivan, 2013)”
Why had NICWA, NARF, NCAI and the Casey Foundation – all of whom make a large amount of money off what we have begun to call the “Indian industry” – not noticed that these children were living in such dangerous circumstances? What action did they take to get these children into immediate safety? How many children on other reservations is this happening to?
JULY 2014 NOTE:
– An attempt appeared to be made to discredit Mr. Sullivan during the oversight hearing Jun 24, 2014. It was claimed, for example, that he had never been to Spirit Lake Reservation, or at the least, was there only once 6 years ago, when in fact he had been there 3 or 4 times in the last 4 years (See attached July 1st letter). It was further omitted that he’d attempted to go meet with members of Spirit Lake in August of 2013 at the request of said members, who attested he was the only one they trusted to talk to. But his superiors in DC refused his travel request. (See attached email correspondence between Mr. Sullivan and ACF Superiors.)
– On July 3, 2014, Mr. Sullivan sent a letter to his superior expressing disappointment that he had never been informed by ACF that he had been invited to testify at the oversight hearing on June 24, 2014. (See attached June 25th letter)
Many families who have consciously left the reservation system in order to raise their children in a healthier setting have also become – due to the Indian Child Welfare Act – overly burdened with the need to raise the children of extended family members who had not left the system.
ICWA has scared some of us into taking children into our homes out of fear of what will happen to them if we don’t.
We were one of those families, overwhelmed raising four troubled grandchildren along with our five, but retaining custody of the four out of fear of what the tribal government might do with them.
All four grandchildren in our home suffered from varying degrees of fetal alcohol as well as some crack exposure and desperately needed was a loving, therapeutic home of any heritage. The “race” of the home should have been irrelevant in the face of their need for structure and strong, nurturing guidance. They were not given that gift.
In early 2013, I was asked to take a niece’s child. I was first asked to take him when he was just a few weeks old but declined at the time. I received several more calls about him throughout 2013, and was finally called in December by an ICWA worker from Leech Lake. I was later told by a county worker that I was the last hope and if I didn’t take him, he would be placed in the home of a relative where another child had died. So, of course I considered taking the now 14 month old baby. But after lots of thought and prayer, I decided I just can’t go through that again – taking a child out of fear. It had been too emotionally difficult. So after being assured they would not place him in the home they had mentioned to me, that they would keep me in the loop as to what was happening and that I could always change my mind if things went south for him, I gave them the final answer “no.”
This is the ridiculousness of the current situation for many children of tribal heritage. The county as well as the tribal ICWA worker, in this case, were considering placing a baby for adoption with a 53-yr-old non-native widow (me), rather than allowing the child to be adopted by a non-native father and mother who were a healthy, twenty years younger, and actively looking to raise a child.
What all these children have needed – but weren’t allowed to have – was licensed, trained, loving foster or adoptive homes that were open and ready to take them.
Many children at Spirit Lake and on other reservations, like it or not, are suffering from drug and alcohol exposure and need the gift of homes that can deal with the complex issues that come with that. In our extended family, we have several fetal alcohol adults raising fetal alcohol children. There is no wonder so many in the community struggle. The effects of alcohol on the brain are well-documented in relation to impulsivity and fearlessness of consequences. It’s time to quit putting our collective heads in the sand, pretending all of today’s issues are totally “the white man’s fault”. There is a whole lot more going on than just that.
Frankly, many in our extended family and those we represent in our organization do not know what NICWA, the Casey Foundation and others are referring to when they claim “formal foster care services are still foreign to Indian culture” (Cross, 1995b, P. 3) – as if our children are locked in some time warp.
What some in the tribal elite describe as the emotional needs of children with Native American heritage do not reflect our children at all. If they are unable to accurately describe the needs, thoughts and feelings of our children, they are most certainly unable to speak for them.
Why are Tribal Governments doing this?
According to Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, in 2012 the Cherokee Nation alone had over 100 attorneys targeting about 1,100 active Indian Child Welfare cases involving some 1,500 children across the nation.
Across America, children who had never been near a reservation nor involved in tribal customs, some with extremely minimal blood quantum – as well as some with maximum quantum – have been removed from homes they know and love and placed with strangers chosen by tribal governments.
What has become apparent is that several tribal governments have made control over children paramount. The child’s best interest has become secondary to a belief that tribal government has an inalienable right to whatever child they deem “theirs.” Some tribal governments, once they have decided they want a particular child, appear to pursue that goal whether or not there is an appropriate home available. Once obtained, the child is placed with whomever is willing to take them.
Federal dollars are connected to the U.S. Census and tribal rolls and tribal governments benefit financially from increased membership.
– According to Jack C. Jackson, Jr., Director of Governmental Affairs, National Congress of American Indians, “…American Indians and Alaska Natives have a significant stake in the outcome of the 2000 census…A significant portion of this federal aid is based on the information collected in the census.” (Jackson, 1999)
– According to the Administration For Children and Families, “Tribal Child Counts – For funds that become available in FY 2008, ACF will calculate grant awards based on the number of children under age 13. A Tribe must submit a self-certified Child Count Declaration for children under age 13 (not age 13 and under), in order to receive FY 2008 CCDF funds.”…“Levels vary from year to year. Child count does not reflect the number of children who actually receive services.” (ACF, 2007)
– According to QUILT, “Originally, ACF used existing, nationally published data for children under 16 … as the basis for tribal child counts. The change to self-certified counts of children under 13 was challenging for many Tribes …the Child Care Bureau gradually implemented the self-certification process over a number of years. (Quilt, 2004)
It is common sense that abuse happens when you put a price on people’s heads. Abuse happens when humans are put in the position of chattel.
Our organizations experience with Spirit Lake:
1. A Spirit Lake grandmother sent us a picture of her little girl and said the girl is living in the home of a sexual offender and is being abused, but her attempts to talk to Spirit Lake tribal social services about it have been met with hostility. She faxed what appears to be some documentation from the off-reservation Devil’s Lake Police and social services in the past. (attached)
2. I attended the Spirit Lake town hall meeting in February, 2013, where one member after another stood up to tell the panel of tribal and federal officials tragic stories of abuse, and how they had tried to get tribal police, the BIA and the U.S Attorney to pay attention and do something. As they told their stories of continuing abuse of children, officials on the panel claimed that everything that can be done, has been done. “Investigations take time” U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon said over and over.
• Concerning the many reports of abuse that Sullivan had written to his superiors, U.S. Attorney Purdon claimed at the town hall meeting that Sullivan had “misrepresented the facts. Mr. Purdon failed to realize when saying this – that he was saying it to the very people who had been reporting the abuse to Sullivan.
• An elder got up at the end of the meeting and tried to tell the panel about abuse she had witnessed, but was shushed by the tribal chair and not allowed to speak. He said, “We all know your story already. Tell it to someone after the meeting.” He closed the meeting without her telling her story. As I rose to leave, I asked others around me what it was she had been trying to say. They said she had seen a 6-year old and 8-year old having anal sex on her front lawn. She called the police, but no one ever came to take her story. To that day at the meeting, law enforcement had never taken her story. The children were related to a council member. A few days later after the hearing, the children were seen on a school bus involved in another sexual act with each other. The tribal chair had stated that everyone knew her story. If so – why was nothing ever done?
3. In June 2013, we were asked to write about and post the story of 3-year-old Lauryn Whiteshield, who, under the BIA and US Attorney’s watch was murdered after having been taken from a safe home in Bismarck and placed with her grandfather, who was living with a woman known to abuse children. The woman abused both her and her twin sister and murdered this little girl within a month of her arrival. This case did get media attention in North Dakota, and as a result, the perpetrator was quickly arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned all within five months. Jeanine Russell, the non-native foster mom for the surviving twin, was asked by the FBI to write and read a victim’s impact statement for the sentencing of Hope Whiteshield, the murderer of Lauryn. We were told she asked the judge to hold her accountable but also hold a broken system accountable. She talked about the lost life of a little girl but also how the federal governed allowed it to happen, and said ICWA can be an evil law when twisted to fit the tribes wants or needs. That said, Spirit Lake is just a microcosm of abuse that appears widespread in Indian Country. About the same this happened to these twins in North Dakota, the same thing was happening to twin boys in South Dakota. As of this writing, no one has been convicted for the murder of that twin boy, although we are told much evidence points to the father.
4. Two foster mothers have written to us, concerned for the Spirit Lake children they were caring for and asking for our help to keep those children safe.
5. A birth mother who is an enrolled member of Spirit Lake contacted us in June, 2014, asking for help as she prepared to go before tribal court.
6. A law enforcement officer connected to Spirit Lake, who asked to remain anonymous, contacted us just prior to the June 24th oversight hearing to tell us additional stories of abuse and his concern that in many cases, he and others have felt their hands were tied having to submit to whatever the tribal government wanted done with abused children or other victims.
It is impossible for us to wrap our heads around how and why this can continue to be allowed. How can our country – our government – stand by while a certain segment of children are routinely abused?
Our Congress didn’t stand by when the best interest of children in Russia was in question. Late Tuesday night, January 1st, 2013, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. Res. 628, expressing disappointment over a Russian law banning adoption of children by American citizens. Senator Inhofe, one of two Senate Co-chairs of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, stated,
“It is extremely unfortunate and disheartening that the Russian Duma and President Putin would choose to deprive the children, the very children that they are entrusted to care for, the ability to find a safe and caring family that every child deserves…It is nothing more than a political play…that ultimately leads to greater hardships and more suffering for Russian children who will now be denied a loving family.”
CCA Members of Congress have also sent a bi-partisan letter to President Putin urging him to veto the legislation, stating,
“We fear that this overly broad law would have dire consequences for Russian children…Nothing is more important to the future of our world than doing our best to give as many children the chance to grow up in a family as we possibly can.”
Further, on June 30, 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama stated in a letter to Speaker John Boehner that the children crossing our southern border are an urgent humanitarian situation and the U.S. has a legal and moral obligation to make sure they are appropriately cared for.
That being the case, and Native American children already wards of the United States government, why has so little been done to alleviate the humanitarian crisis within our reservation system?
We are told the cause of crime and corruption in Indian Country is poverty and “Historical Trauma,” and that additional funding will solve the problems. Yet, crime and corruption are never made better and can never be made better by giving those responsible for the crime and corruption more money.
Despite claims by tribal leaders and entities such as NICWA, NARF and Casey Foundation, our families don’t suffer from “Historical Trauma.” If my personal family were to suffer from any type of historical trauma, it would more likely be due to relatives dying in the Holocaust in Germany.
However, if any in my immediate family, other than my father who experienced it, were to exhibit trauma related to the Holocaust, it would likely be regarded as unhealthy. Prolonged, delayed, or otherwise unresolved grieving over a long period of time is considered unhealthy – even more so if the trauma occurred to someone else, was not witnessed by oneself, and didn’t even happen in one’s lifetime.
We further disagree with the offensive premise by many that low income is the cause of crime simply because some people with little income have committed crime. Persons with middle incomes and even extremely high incomes have been known to exhibit criminal behavior as well. Criminal intention comes from within the heart, not outside of it.
Lastly, tribal members are not permanently destined to be forever victims, forever in need of government assistance. The very suggestion is profoundly insulting and paternalistic.
We all have varied choices in how we live our lives. Interestingly, many of U.S. citizens of Native American heritage have purposefully chosen not to live under the auspices of tribal and federal government – nor in the limited “cultural” box defined by entities such as NICWA, NARF and the Casey Foundation – despite the many attempts by these organizations to close people into that box.
It is often hard to hear the true voices of many tribal members. If there is one thing that seems to run culturally, it is the choice to remain relatively silent in the face of tribal government corruption. But social media has been opening people up across the nation. Note this public Facebook post by a tribal member on Friday, June 27, 2014. It is similar to what our organization hears from affected people every day…
Leech Lakers Unite
Good evening to all of you. Thank you for all your comments. There are many issues that seem so fixable if we would have one person willing to stand up and be the voice for the people and lead by example at the RBC level. We all see and know of individuals who are using company cars for their personal use. Driving their families and friends around. Yet even when employees are not held accountable for killing with tribal owned vehicles our infamous RBC still allows some to drive company vehicles. The white laws are the only ones holding these men accountable. Where is a public apology to these families from our leaders. Robbie Howe now wants severance huh? She already got her severance when she got paid for not coming to work. If she gets one, you can thank our so called leaders for that. We hear she is sick and if this is the case and it stopped her from performing her daily job functions she should have stepped down and our joke of a Chair, Carri and Secretary/treasurer should have asked her to step down. Here they come, Archies crew. Mike Myers, non band member. Randy Finn and Frank Bebeau, another non band member who has never won a single case for Leech Lake EVER! Yet has Archies loyality. It will never change people until you demand more out of of so called leaders. Vote count was lower and bravo to all of you who made a statement by not voting in someone you dont believe in. You should check and see if your name was used illegally just in case.
The facts are:
1) According to the last two U.S. censuses, 75% of tribal members DO NOT live in Indian Country – and many, like our families, have deliberately taken their children and left in order to protect their families from the rampant crime and corruption of the reservation system.
2) The abuses at Spirit Lake in North Dakota are well known, but it is also known that Spirit Lake is just a microcosm of what’s happening on many reservations across the country.
3) Gang activity involving drugs is heavy and rampant on many reservations. There are children dying within Indian Country whose names don’t make it to the media – and for whom justice is never given.
4) These abuses are rampant on many reservations because the U.S. Government has set up a system that allows extensive abuse to occur unchecked and without repercussion.
5) Many, many times more children leave the reservation system in the company of their parents, who have mass exited – than do children who have been taken into foster care or found a home in adoption. But tribal leaders can’t admit many parents are consciously taking their kids out of Indian Country in attempt to get them away from the reservation system and corrupt leaders. It makes a better sound bite to blame it on evil social services
It’s time to stop listening to those with a vested financial interest in increasing tribal government power, and learn more about the physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse of tribal members by other tribal members and even many tribal leaders.
Every time power to tribal leaders is increased, tribal members – U.S. citizens – are robbed of civil freedoms under the constitution of the United States.
More power given to tribal leaders means less freedom and constitutional rights for tribal members. Equal Protection, for example, is a constitutional right.
To better protect children, we need to:
A. Guarantee protection for children of Native American heritage equal to that of any other child in the United States.
B. Guarantee that fit parents, no matter their heritage, have the right to choose healthy guardians or adoptive parents for their children without concern for heritage.
C. Recognize the “Existing Indian Family Doctrine” as a viable analysis for consideration and application in child custody proceedings. (See In re Santos Y, In Bridget R., and In re Alexandria Y.)
D. Guarantee that United States citizens, no matter their heritage, have a right to fair trials.
• When summoned to a tribal court, parents and legal guardians will be informed of their legal rights, including USC 25 Chapter 21 1911 (b)“…In any State court proceeding for the foster care placement of, or termination of parental rights to, an Indian child not domiciled or residing within the reservation of the Indian child’s tribe, the court, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, shall transfer such proceeding to the jurisdiction of the tribe, absent objection by either parent…”
• Under the principles of comity: All Tribes and States shall accord full faith and credit to a child custody order issued by the Tribe or State of initial jurisdiction consistent within the UCCJA – which enforces a child custody determination by a court of another State – unless the order has been vacated, stayed, or modified by a court having jurisdiction to do so under Article 2 of the UCCJA.
E. Include well defined protections for Adoptive Parents.
F. Mandate that a “Qualified expert witness” be someone who has professional knowledge of the child and family and is able to advocate for the well being of the child, first and foremost.
G. Mandate that only parents and/or legal custodians have the right to enroll a child into an Indian Tribe. Because it is claimed that tribal membership is a political rather than racial designation, we are asking that parents, as U.S. citizens, be given the sole, constitutional right to choose political affiliation for their families and not have it forced upon them.
• Remove the words “or are eligible for membership in” 1901 (3)
• Remove the words “eligible for membership in” from 1903 (4) (b), the definition of an ‘Indian child’ and replace with the words “an enrolled member of”
Read more detail and citations for these points in the attached document, “To Better Protect the Children.”
It is time for balder-dash to end and genuine concern begin.
Thank you again for your patience and willingness to hear our concerns.
Elizabeth Sharon Morris
Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare (CAICW)
PO Box 460
Hillsboro, ND 58045
ACF. (2007). Tribal Child Counts. Washington DC: Child Care Bureau, Office of Family Assistance. Log No: CCDF-ACF-PI-2007-02
Belford, D. (Director). (2012). Life with James [Video Clip].
Benedict, J. (2000). Without Reservation. New York: Harper.
Cross, T.L. (1995a). Heritage & helping: A model curriculum for Indian child welfare practice, Module II: Protective services for Indian children. Portland, OR: National Indian Child Welfare Association.
Cross, T.L. (1995b). Heritage & helping: A model curriculum for Indian child welfare practice, Module IV: Family-centered services for Indian children. Portland, OR: National Indian Child Welfare Association.
In re SANTOS Y., B144822 (Cal. App. 4th, Second Dist. Div. Two July 20, 2001).
Jackson, J. C. (1999, February 12). Director of Government Affairs. (U. C. Rights, Interviewer) Retrieved from Jack C. Jackson, Jr., Director of Governmental Affairs, National Congress of American Indians, Statement on the importance of an accurate census to American Indians and Alaska Natives, before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Washington, D.C., http://www.ncai.org/ncai/resource/documents/governance/cvrightcensus.
KARNOWSKI, S. (2013). Feds Say Native Mob Gang Dented but Work Remains. Minneapolis: ABC News.
Kershaw, S. (2006, February 19), Tribal Underworld: Drug Traffickers Find Haven in Shadows of Indian Country, New York Times
Lawrence, B. (2007). Publisher. Native American Press/Ojibwe News.
Moddelmog, T. R. (2013). Rebuttal. Grand Forks: Grand Fork Herald.
Morris, E. (2007). VIEWPOINT: Law could tear children from a ‘tribe’ they love . Grand Forks: Grand Forks Herald.
Morris, Roland John. (1998). Testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. Seattle: Concerning Tribal corruption and Jurisdiction.
Morrison, S.K., (1998), Testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on tribal sovereignty and tribal courts, Choctaw Attorney; Wilburton, Oklahoma;
Omdahl, L. (2013, July). Commentary by Former ND Lt. Governor. Grand Forks: Grand Forks Herald.
Quilt. (2004). Child Counts. Warm Spring: NCCIC. http://www.nccic.org/Tribal/effective/warmsprings/childcounts.html
Smart, P. M. (2004). In Harm’s Way. The Salt Lake Tribune.
Sullivan, T. F. (2013). 12th Mandated Report. Denver: ACF.
Tevlin, J. (2013, February 12). Tevlin: Sierra shares lessons on Indian adoption. Retrieved from StarTribune.com: http://www.startribune.com/local/190953261.html?refer=y
SD: Indian Foster Care 1: NPR Investigative Storytelling Gone Awry
National Public Radio Ombudsman – August 09, 2013
My finding is that the series was deeply flawed and should not have been aired as it was. Also: S. Dakota Indian Foster Care 2: Abuse In Taking Children From Families?: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2013/08/09/186943868/s-dakota-indian-foster-care-2-abuse-in-taking-children-from-families?ft=1&f= Also: S. Dakota Indian Foster Care 3: Filthy Lucre: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2013/08/09/186943952/s-dakota-indian-foster-care-3-filthy-lucre Also: Indian Foster Care 4: The Mystery Of A Missing $100 Million: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2013/08/09/209282064/s-dakota-indian-foster-care-4-the-mystery-of-a-missing-100-million Also: S. Dakota Indian Foster Care 5: Who Is To Blame For Native Children In White Homes?: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2013/08/09/209528755/s-dakota-indian-foster-care-5-who-is-to-blame-for-native-children-in-white-homes Also: S. Dakota Indian Foster Care 6: Where It All Went Wrong – The Framing: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2013/08/09/203038778/s-dakota-india
Full NPR Ombudsman Report: http://www.scribd.com/doc/159252168/Full-NPR-Ombudsman-Report-South-Dakota-Foster-Care-Investigative-Storytelling-Gone-Awry
A Pilot Study of Compliance in North Dakota, (December 2000) by NICWA and Casey Family Programs
BIA ICWA Guideline Changes (April 30, 2014) by Elizabeth Morris
Documents from a Spirit Lake family asking for help with Granddaughter (2013)
Domestic and Sexual Violence outside the Reservations in North Dakota get lots of attention from the ACF. (September 2013) Email Correspondence between ACF Officials
Feds Say Native Mob Dented, but Work Remains (2013), by Steve Karnowski
Routine Cruelty (2001), by Thomas Sowell
Testimony of Roland John Morris Sr. before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (1998) – Concerning tribal corruption and jurisdiction
Tom Sullivan’s attempt to go to Spirit Lake, (August, 2013) – email correspondence between Tom Sullivan and his DC Superiors
Tom Sullivan’s Response to Chairman McDonald’s Hearing Testimony (June 25, 2014) by Thomas Sullivan, Regional Director of the Administration for Children and Families
Tom Sullivan’s Response to ACF Superior Ms. McMullen, (July 1, 2014) – by Thomas Sullivan, Regional Director of the Administration for Children and Families
To Better Protect the Children, by Elizabeth Morris
Numerous letters of pain from Families across the U.S.
To: Various Legislative Staff – 1:33 PM
We are very distressed by this letter. What it says is beyond comprehension.
Some of whom I am writing to are genuinely concerned. Others don’t appear to be or don’t believe he is telling the truth. Yet – more than a few independent media reports have come out over the last couple years verifying and supporting exactly what Mr. Sullivan says is happening.
An April 28, 2014 report from the Associate Press notes new FBI statistics that show the “Navajo Nation [pop. 180,000] saw a sharp increase in the murder rate in 2013 and finished the year with 42 homicides, eclipsing major metropolitan areas like Seattle and Boston.” It said the 42 people killed “surpassed 40 in Boston and 32 in Seattle, both cities with populations of more than 600,000.”
No mention of how many of those in the report were below the age of 18. We won’t hazard a guess.
People – we are talking about children. We realize how difficult the problem is. But we are talking about children. Shame on all those who continue to cover up horrific crimes happening on reservations all over the U.S. simply because standing up to a tribal government complicates their jobs or reelection opportunities. We are talking about children.
Our org and many others will not go away until ALL children in the United States – no matter their heritage – are afforded safety, respect, love, and equal protection. Our government must quit treating children of tribal heritage as if they are worthless, expendable political pawns.
Our children are U.S. citizens first and foremost, and have constitutional rights. Begin to recognize that. We are not going away.
Regional Administrator Sullivan’s letter –
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Sullivan, Thomas (ACF)
Subject: Criminal Corruption continues at Spirit Lake
To: “Mcmullen, Marrianne (ACF)”
Cc: “Murray, James (ACF)” <[email protected]>, “Greenberg, Mark (ACF)”
The criminally corrupt remain in charge at Spirit Lake. By this I mean that whenever a decision is to be made where there is a choice between the welfare and safety of children and the welfare and safety of abusers, rapists and sodomizers, the latter always seem to prevail. This is evidenced by the following eleven facts:
1. In the first week of February, 2014 the Spirit Lake Tribal Council fired Spirit Lake Associate Judge Jennifer Cross. Former Judge Cross had apparently incurred the wrath of the Council by several decision she had rendered during the prior few weeks, decisions to remove children from the homes of convicted rapists and abusers. These rapists and abusers went to the Council and prevailed on them to fire Judge Cross. They did. The Tribal Chair and another council member opposed this action but they were outvoted. The Chair does not normally vote unless there is a tie vote. How does this action of the Tribal Council contribute to the welfare and safety of Spirit Lake children?
2. The reason given by the Tribal Council for the termination of Judge Cross’ employment was that she had not passed the Bar. Judge Cross is a graduate of an accredited Law School and had been preparing for the Bar exam when fired. I understand the current Chief Judge of the Spirit Lake Tribal Court has taken and failed the state bar exam on two different occasions. Judge Cross’ replacement on the Tribal Court has only a high school diploma, no education beyond high school. How will the replacement of Judge Cross with this man contribute to the safety and welfare of the children of Spirit Lake?
3. After Judge Cross was fired these same families asked the Chair and Council to return the children who had been removed from their homes. One of those former foster parents, a twice-convicted rapist, was overheard outside the Council chambers telling the BIA Spirit Lake Superintendent how to handle the paperwork returning the two pre-teen girls back into his full time care and custody by placing only his wife’s name on those documents and keeping his name off of them. How does the placement of these pre-teen girls back into the home of a twice-convicted rapist contribute to their safety and welfare?
4. When Judge Cross applied to the Tribal Chair and Council for reinstatement, she was told by Councilwoman Brownshield, in an open meeting of the Council, “I don’t agree with your decisions.” All the other Council members nodded their heads in agreement. The Tribal Chair spoke on behalf of Judge Cross being retained. Since the vote was 4 to 0 against Judge Cross the Chair did not even have an opportunity to vote. Has this Tribal Council adopted a policy that they will fire any tribal employee who takes actions inconsistent with their desires? How does such a policy contribute to the welfare and safety of the children of Spirit Lake? How will such a policy effect the willingness of competent, qualified staff to come to Spirit Lake to work under such uncertainty?
5. One senior tribal official told me that several years ago former Tribal Social Services (TSS) director Kevin Dauphinais left two children at his home. They were a 4 year old girl and a 2 year old boy who, according to Mr. Dauphinais, needed a place to stay for a few days. They are still in that home. It was immediately obvious that both required medical attention. Subsequent review at the Grand Forks Advocacy Center (GFAC) revealed that the little girl had been being raped by her biological father. When the mother learned this, she kicked the bio dad out of their home. Shortly thereafter the bio mom brought a live-in boyfriend into that home. The live in, soon after arriving in that home, sodomized the 2 year old boy and fled the home immediately. Both BIA law enforcement and FBI were on hand at the GFAC when the rapes and sodomy were confirmed. In the intervening several years there has been no investigation of these sexual assaults on these two little children. There has been no prosecution of these monsters who sexually assaulted these two children. These monsters remain free to walk the streets of their communities, raping and sodomizing little children with no apparent fear of prosecution or imprisonment. I understand no rehabilitative services have been provided to these children to help them overcome the trauma they suffered. How does acting as though nothing bad has been inflicted on these two children contribute to the welfare and safety of children at Spirit Lake?
6. Even though it has been almost four full weeks since the four of you returned from your brief “fact-finding” visit to Spirit Lake, I have yet to see a report of your findings. I am going to receive a copy, aren’t I? I was deeply disappointed to learn from my sources and others who you met with that you had an exceptionally “rosy view” of conditions at Spirit Lake and that you really did not wish to hear any details about the abusive conditions many children have been placed in there, where they are available to be raped and tortured on a daily basis, and the failure of all supposedly responsible adults whether in positions of responsibility in tribal, state or federal government agencies, advocacy groups, religious leaders or the media to stop the carnage. If that is “fact-finding” as you define it, that is most unfortunate. How your “rosy view” and how your refusal to listen to the factual details about the continuing abuse and rape of children contributes to the safety and welfare of those children of Spirit Lake escapes me. May I ask how all of you arrived at the conclusion that your “rosy view” of Spirit Lake was a more accurate descriptor of conditions there than the detailed facts provided to you by my sources and I? What information did you rely on to reach your “rosy view”? Who provided that information? If that information is in written form, may I see a copy of it? How were you able to substantiate the accuracy of that information? How does your “rosy view” of conditions the children of Spirit Lake have been placed in contribute to their welfare and safety? Doesn’t that “rosy view” just spread a little powder and perfume around to cover up the stench emanating from the homes where these Spirit Lake children are available to be tortured and raped daily?
7. In my Tenth Mandated Report I provided detail about the father who was found by the local police in a Devils Lake motel naked in bed with his then 10 year old daughter who was also naked. The Ramsey County Attorney investigated that allegation in my Report and brought an indictment against the father for a class two felony of Gross Sexual Imposition. I find it fascinating that a county attorney receiving a single report from me is able, with only limited resources as compared to those available to the FBI, US Attorney and the BIA, to investigate and indict on facts made available in one of my Reports. There are hundreds of comparable allegations made in my thirteen Mandated Reports which fall into the jurisdiction of the FBI, US Attorney and the BIA. How odd that not one of those resulted in an arrest, indictment or tribal warrant! How does one justify your “rosy view” under these circumstances? How does one explain such gross failures by federal law enforcement?
8. I understand from my sources that you clearly stated that you are drawing a line in the sand in order to restrict the issues you will deal with to those occurring after your brief “fact-finding” visit to Spirit Lake. That means that the hundreds of those children who were placed on the orders of the prior tribal chair in homes with those who neglect, abuse and rape will be ignored in any future efforts at Spirit Lake. This also means that nothing will be done to find those dozens of children who have simply disappeared from the reservation, perhaps trafficked into the Bakken oil field man camps or into other forms of sexual slavery. This also means you will do nothing to help those parents who have been caring for undocumented children without any pay for at least two years and who now will be left to fight the county, state and tribal governments to get the papers allowing them to register these children in school, qualify for Medicaid, etc.. This also means that those young children who have been professionally evaluated, identified as being subjected to unspeakable physical and sexual abuse and who have been prevented from receiving necessary rehabilitative services by the tribal Council will continue to be ignored. Nothing will be done for them to help them to heal! How does leaving all of these Spirit Lake children behind, ineligible in your universe to receive any services, contribute to their welfare and safety? It is clear that your line in the sand will cast a broad, protective net over all those abusers and rapists who have had their way with the children of Spirit Lake for years and, in your universe, will continue without any fear of exposure, prosecution or imprisonment for their prior abuse, rape and torture of these children. Sounds like amnesty to me. By whose authority have you declared that amnesty?
9. It is my understanding that all of you have passed the word to your staff, grantees and contractors that nothing negative about conditions at Spirit Lake will be tolerated in any reports, etc. submitted to you. How sad. Children are in the full-time care and custody of predators available to be raped daily and you are whitewashing any report you get that factually describes conditions at Spirit Lake so no one’s sensibilities will be offended by any word contrary to your “rosy view”. How does such a cover-up contribute to the safety and welfare of the children at Spirit Lake?
10. The Spirit Lake Tribal Chair at a General Assembly meeting on April 29, 2014 in Fort Totten rebuked a local TV reporter for reporting on the death on Thursday, April 24, 2014 of an 8 month old who, reportedly, choked to death on a baby bottle. The reporter was excluded from the meeting as well by the Chair. Unpleasant news is never easy to handle but attempts to cover up such unpleasantness have, in my experience, lead to even more unpleasant publicity. At the same meeting one Tribal Council member tried to ban one of my sources from the reservation. No vote was taken on this matter that evening. It is intriguing that within the space of a few weeks’ time, we have conditions at Spirit Lake described in terms of a “rosy view”, I hear of an organized federal effort to stop any negative publicity about Spirit Lake and the Tribal Chair and Council openly speak of silencing the media and my sources. What a coincidence! Or as a poster I saw recently proclaimed: “Sometimes a coincidence is a plan in disguise.” Whether all of this is a plan or just a coincidence, please tell me how does any of it contribute to the safety and welfare of the children at Spirit Lake?
11. Facts do have a way of interfering with stories that are false. Within the last week, I understand there have been two infant deaths at Spirit Lake. The first was on April 24, 2014 when an infant boy, eight months old, choked to death on a baby bottle. On Tuesday, April 29, 2014, I understand, an infant less than a week old was found dead in his home in Fort Totten. This child had been born in Minot and had been brought home to Fort Totten by his 17 year old mother over the weekend. Dead bodies of infants are difficult to sweep under the rug, especially when there are two of them in five days. It is difficult to maintain that “rosy view” under these circumstances. Reports can be manipulated, if that is your intent. The press can be intimidated and people barred, if that is your intent. If you are able to do all of that, you are still left with two dead babies, hundreds of children in the care and custody of abusive and predatory biological and foster parents, available to be raped or tortured daily and dozens of children who have simply disappeared from the Reservation. What will your “rosy view” and all the rest of your efforts to minimize any discussion of the harsh conditions these children are living in contribute to the safety and welfare of these children?
How many more Spirit Lake children will never grow up because of this continuing criminal corruption? How many more Spirit Lake children will grow into adult lives of severe dysfunction as a result of the abuse, rape and torture imposed on them by the criminally corrupt?
Thomas F. Sullivan
Regional Administrator, ACF, Denver
Elizabeth Sharon (Lisa) Morris
Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare (CAICW)
PO Box 460
Hillsboro, ND 58045
Twitter: http://twitter.com/CAICW ( @CAICW )
On Wed, Apr 30, 2014 CAICW wrote the following letter to BIA officials:
Ms. Cave and the committees involved with transforming ICWA guidelines;
Thank you for allowing input concerning the Indian Child Welfare Act guidelines.
The hosts of the listening session on Thursday, April 24 stated that only tribal leaders have a stake in the ICWA and are thus the sole “stakeholders” in what happens with ICWA. I realize this is what the BIA as well as many in Congress believe.
However, tribal members who have rejected tribal jurisdiction, non-member persons of heritage who rejected the reservation system and/or have never lived under it, and hundreds of thousands of non-Indians across the nation are in fact “stakeholders” in this law – whether government wants to admit it or not.
Non-Indian stakeholders would include the non-Indian birth moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of children adversely affected by the Indian Child Welfare Act. There are hundreds of thousands of them. You can not say that these families are not “stakeholders” if they are having to fight a tribal government over rights to their own children.
And yes – we have current cases of birth family having to fight tribal governments for their own children. We had a grandmother in Colorado last month who won her case to keep her 7-year-old grandson – but would not have won without help from good attorneys. Sadly, we have a birth mother in Michigan right now who is losing against tribal court because she had no money to hire an attorney who could stand up and say the tribal court isn’t following ICWA, let alone regular family law.
When government passes a law that mandatorily gives jurisdiction of ones family to a political entity – and that law affects not just persons who have chosen to be part of that political entity, but everyone of 100% certain blood heritage – Government has approved a law based on race and has way overstepped its bounds. It gets even worse. Bad enough that many persons and families of 100% heritage are forced unwillingly into this political situation due to their race, but our federal government went further – forcing everyone down to 51% heritage to be included in the law – as well as hundreds of thousands of people with even less than 5% heritage. This means families who are predominately non-native – many of whom are unconnected to the reservation system.
Government has lost sight of the reality that 75% of those who are considered Native American do not live within the reservation system and appears to be blind to the reality that the vast majority of people affected by ICWA are predominately of non-Indian heritage. These affected children have OTHER extended family, roots, traditions, and worldviews – all equally important and acceptable.
I am speaking as a birth mother, grandmother and aunt. I am also speaking as representative of our national membership. I and the people I represent are undeniably stakeholders.
Below are some of the issues brought up by tribal officials in the listening session last Thursday. Tribal leaders are talking about ways to strengthen their jurisdiction over our children. We were very dismayed at the suggested ICWA changes.
Some of the upsetting points of change requested by tribal leaders and their attorneys are listed here. I have summarized reasons for our objections in italics.
1. ‘Make it easier to transfer children to tribal court’ – (Thus harder for families such as ours to protect themselves)
2. ‘Tribal decisions concerning eligiblity should be conclusive’ – (Dominating the feelings and decisions of the birth family, who might have purposefully left the reservation system due to prevalent crime and corruption. Parents and primary caregivers should have the final say as to whether their children are enrolled.)
3. ‘A tribal committee should make revisions to the guidelines and those guidelines should become binding law.’ – (Despite the legislative record, which shows that the guidelines were never meant to be binding. Further – ALL stakeholders should be invited to the table, not just those who have a financial and power stake in having possession of our children.)
3. ‘Make it easier for kids to be eligible. Allow for combining the heritage from two different tribes to help a child reach eligibility.’ – (We are obviously talking about children here who are primarily of non-native heritage. Are tribal governments grasping at straws to keep control over other people’s children?)
4. ‘Require complete ancestry charts for BOTH parents’ – (No tribal government has any right to see my ancestry chart. I am not a tribal member – they have no right to demand any of my personal documents or a right to inspect my lineage.)
5. ‘Eliminate all language referring to “delay” being a problem, the advanced stage of proceedings, or the undue hardship of transferring to tribal court.’ – (OUR children have a right to be respected and protected. There are laws in every state limiting how long a child must wait for permanency BECAUSE it is well documented that children have an emotional need stable and permanent homes as soon as possible. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, our children are no different from any other child in America. It is extremely racist to claim that OUR children are somehow different than other kids and do NOT need permanence as early. What this is essentially saying is that it is okay if children of heritage have their lives disrupted and pulled apart – it doesn’t matter how long they cry or pine for the people they knew and loved best – because they are not as important or valued by our government as other children are. Our government is willing to deeply hurt our children simply because they have Native American heritage. Does the government consider them not as worth protecting as other children?)
6. ‘No more talk about a child not being connected to the tribe – as if the child isn’t “Indian” enough. Eliminate use of the Indian Child Doctrine nationally.’ – ( It is extremely racist for tribal governments to claim that they know my child, who they have never met, better than I do – and that it is more important for my child to be connected to the tribe than it is for my child to have a permanent, safe, and stable home. It is extremely offensive for Tribal leaders to make racist statements like this – completely denying the rights and feelings of non-Indian families as well as Indian families who have purposefully distanced themselves from the reservation system.)
7. ‘Acknowledge that a parent who has not had custody is still a parent with continuing custody.’ – (Would this acknowledgment apply to non-Indian parents as well? Will the government consider the non-Indian mother in Michigan as one with ‘continuing custody,’ even though the tribal court has ripped her 13-yr-old daughter away from her – against the daughter’s wishes? Or is the suggestion that only non-custodial parents of tribal heritage will always be considered a custodial parent? Why? Does the U.S. government continue to view U.S. citizens of native heritage as somehow incapable? Is there an underlying racist notion that parents of heritage are somehow different than their non-native counterparts – despite the vast majority of citizens of tribal heritage living average, mainstream lives off the reservation? To many parents of heritage who choose to live outside of Indian Country, it is offensive that our government continues to pigeon hole people. Further, to non-native parents of eligible children, it is appalling anyone would suggest the other parent be considered to have had custody simply due to a percentage of heritage. Parents without custody are non-custodial parents, period.)
8. ’24-months isn’t long enough for some parents. ex – One dad wasn’t the one with custody because most young children are raised by the mothers and so it is not his fault. He wasn’t responsible for the current situation and needs more time.’ – (The best interest of the child – the need for permanence, safety and stability – needs to be of utmost importance. The needs of Dads who haven’t been in the picture – many times by choice, although they might regret it later – must be secondary. Our society needs all parents, no matter the heritage, to be responsible and accountable, not blaming. We need to make the emotional needs of individual children priority and quit making excuses for adults who should know better.)
9. ‘What one culture deems normal, another culture might not.’ – (This is true. But many ICWA workers seem to ignore the cultural norm an individual child has been raised in – as well as ignore any other heritage of the child – for the sake of the culture tribal leaders and ICWA workers deem necessary and solely important. This appears to happen even when a child has been completely raised and feels comfortable in an alternate culture. Among many ICWA workers, there appears to be a complete disregard and even antagonism for the equally good and acceptable cultures many children living outside of the reservation system have been comfortable with.)
10. ‘States should be required to give the tribal gov’ts a list of all their licensed foster homes so they tribal gov’t can identify preferred families.’ – (Foster families have a right to privacy. This expectation and demand is frightening.)
The following are a list of proposed ICWA changes we would like to see:
1. Children of tribal heritage should be guaranteed protection equal to that of any other child in the United States.
a) Children should never be moved suddenly from a home that is safe, loved, and where they are emotionally, socially and physically comfortable simply because their care-givers are not of a certain heritage. The best interest of the child should be considered first, above the needs of the tribal community.
b) State health and welfare requirements for foster and adoptive children should apply equally to all. If there is proven evidence of emotional and/or physical neglect, the state has an obligation to that child’s welfare and should be held accountable if the child is knowingly or by Social Service neglect left in unsafe conditions. ( – Title 42 U.S.C 1983)
2. Fit parents, no matter their heritage, have the right to choose healthy guardians or adoptive parents for their children without concern for heritage and superseding wishes of tribal government. US Supreme Court decisions upholding family autonomy under 5th and 14th Amendment due process and equal protection include Meyer vs. Nebraska, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, and Brown v. Board of Education.
3. The “Existing Indian Family Doctrine” must be available to families and children that choose not to live within the reservation system.
a) In re Santos Y, the court found “Application of the ICWA to a child whose only connection with an Indian tribe is a one-quarter genetic contribution does not serve the purpose for which the ICWA was enacted…” Santos y quoted from Bridget R.’s due process and equal protection analysis at length. Santos also states, Congress considered amending the ICWA to preclude application of the “existing Indian family doctrine” but did not do so.”
b) In Bridget R., the court stated, “if the Act applies to children whose families have no significant relationship with Indian tribal culture, such application runs afoul of the Constitution in three ways:
— it impermissibly intrudes upon a power ordinarily reserved to the states,
— it improperly interferes with Indian children’s fundamental due process rights respecting family relationships; and
— on the sole basis of race, it deprives them of equal opportunities to be adopted that are available to non-Indian children and exposes them…to having an existing non-Indian family torn apart through an after the fact assertion of tribal and Indian-parent rights under ICWA”.
c) In re Alexandria Y., the court held that “recognition of the existing Indian family doctrine [was] necessary to avoid serious constitutional flaws in the ICWA” and held that the trial court had acted properly in refusing to apply ICWA “because neither [child] nor [mother] had any significant social, cultural, or political relationship with Indian life; thus, there was no existing Indian family to preserve.” Question: If current ICWA case law includes many situations where existing Family Doctrine has already been ignored, then have serious constitutional flaws already occurred?
4. United States citizens, no matter their heritage, have a right to fair trials.
a) When summoned to a tribal court, parents and legal guardians, whether enrolled or not, have to be told their rights, including 25 USC Chapter 21 § 1911. (b) “Transfer of proceedings [to tribal jurisdiction] …in the absence of good cause to the contrary, [and] objection by either parent…”
b) The rights of non-member parents must be upheld: for example; 25 USC Chapter 21 § 1903. Definitions “Permanent Placement” (1) (iv) “shall not include a placement based … upon an award, in a divorce proceeding, of custody to one of the parents.
c) Non-members have to be able to serve county and state summons to tribal members within reservation boundaries and must have access to appeal.
d) Under the principles of comity: All Tribes and States shall accord full faith and credit to a child custody order issued by the Tribe or State of initial jurisdiction consistent within the UCCJA – which enforces a child custody determination by a court of another State – unless the order has been vacated, stayed, or modified by a court having jurisdiction to do so under Article 2 of the UCCJA.
5. Adoptive Parents need well defined protections. These are the citizens among us that have been willing to set aside personal comforts and take in society’s neediest children. Adoptive parents take many risks in doing this, the least of which is finances. People build their lives around family. Adoptive parents risk not only their own hearts, but the hearts of any birth children they have as well as the hearts of their extended family. These parents have an investment in the families they are building and have a right to know that they can put their names on the adoption paper with confidence. If we, as a society, continue to abuse these parents, we will find fewer people willing to take the risk of adoption and more and more children will languish in foster homes.
6. A “Qualified expert witness” should be someone who is able to advocate for the well being of the child, first and foremost: a professional person who has substantial education and experience in the area of the professional person’s specialty and significant knowledge of and experience with the child, his family, and the culture, family structure, and child-rearing practices the child has been raised in.
7. Finally, if tribal membership is a political rather than racial designation, (as argued) than is it constitutional for the definition of an Indian child to include “eligible” children, rather than “enrolled” children?
a) 25 USC Chapter 21 § 1903. Definitions: (4) ”Indian child” means any unmarried person who is under age eighteen and is either
b) member of an Indian tribe or
c) is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe;
1. Tribal governments have been given the right as sovereign entities to determine their own membership at the expense of the rights of any other heritage or culture as well as at the expense of individual rights.
2. ICWA does not give Indian children or their legal guardians the choice whether to accept political membership in the tribe. Legal guardians have the right to make that choice for their children, not governments.
3. Non-member relatives are being told that these children are now members of an entity that the family has had no past political, social or cultural relationship with.
4. So IS it then the blood relationship that determines membership? Bridget R., stated, “If tribal determinations are indeed conclusive for purposes of applying ICWA, and if, … a particular tribe recognizes as members all persons who are biologically descended from historic tribal members, then children who are related by blood to such a tribe may be claimed by the tribe, and thus made subject to the provisions of ICWA, solely on the basis of their biological heritage. Only children who are racially Indians face this possibility.” Isn’t that then an unconstitutional race-based classification?
5. Keeping children, no matter their blood quantum, in what the State would normally determine to be an unfit home on the basis of tribal government claims that European values don’t apply to and are not needed by children of tribal heritage is racist in nature and a denial of the child’s personal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
6. Even with significant relationship with Indian tribal culture, forced application of ICWA runs afoul of the Constitution in three ways: (1) it impermissibly intrudes upon a power ordinarily reserved to the states, (2) it improperly interferes with Indian children’s fundamental due process rights; and (3) on the sole basis of race, it deprives them of equal opportunities to be adopted that are available to non-Indian children.
Thank you for listening to all the stakeholders – including us.
By GOSIA WOZNIACKA Associated Press Feb 3, 2014, 3:49 PM
Four national Native American organizations on Monday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children in the private adoption and public child welfare systems, saying civil rights violations there are rampant.
The groups also called for the federal government to take a stronger role in enforcing compliance of the Indian Child Welfare Act. They said in a letter to Jocelyn Samuels, the Justice Department’s acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, that there is “minimal federal oversight” over implementation of the law.
The letter follows a recent high-profile custody battle over a Cherokee girl known as Baby Veronica who eventually was adopted by a white South Carolina couple. It also comes amid lawsuits alleging violations of federal law governing foster care and adoptions in some states.
The organizations, which include the Portland-based National Indian Child Welfare Association, alleged in their letter that some guardians appointed by the court mock Native American culture; some state workers put down traditional Native ways of parenting; and some children are placed in white homes when Indian relatives and Native foster care homes are available.
“These stories highlight patterns of behavior that are, at best, unethical and, at worst, unlawful,” the letter states. “Although these civil rights violations are well-known and commonplace, they continue to go unchecked and unexamined.”
The federal government had no an immediate response regarding the allegations.
“We have received the letter and are reviewing the request,” Justice Department spokeswoman Dena W. Iverson said in an email.
Native children are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system nationwide, especially in foster care.
Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 after finding very high numbers of Indian children being removed from their homes by public and private agencies and placed in non-Indian foster and adoptive homes and institutions.
Federal law now requires that additional services be provided to Native families to prevent unwarranted removal. And it requires that Indian children who are removed be placed whenever possible with relatives or with other Native Americans, in a way that preserves their connection with their tribe, community and relatives.
While Native groups agree that the Indian Child Welfare Act has been effective in slowing the removal of Indian children from their families, major challenges remain. And Baby Veronica’s plight has highlighted the matter.
Veronica was born to a non-Cherokee mother, who put her up for adoption. Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple, gained custody of the child in 2009. The baby’s father, a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, pressed claims under the Indian Child Welfare Act and won custody when the girl was 27 months old.
But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act didn’t apply because the father, Dusten Brown, had been absent from Veronica’s life before her birth and never had custody of her. In September, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court dissolved an order keeping the girl in the state, and Brown handed her over to the Capobiancos.
In addition to that case, the letter cites problems such as adoption agencies disregarding children’s tribal affiliation and failing to provide notice to a tribe when a child is taken into custody. The groups also contend Indian children are transported across state lines to sidestep the law; adoption attorneys encourage circumvention of the law; and judges deny tribes a presence during child custody proceedings.
Another problem, according to Craig Dorsay, an Oregon lawyer who works on many Native child welfare cases, is inconsistencies in identifying who is an Indian child and who is not — and whether the law applies to families who are deemed not Indian enough in the eyes of a court.
BIA response re: Sullivan’s citations of abuse – “They have been investigated.” Right. Sure. Someone moved a file from one drawer to another. Investigation over.
Not one honest person at Spirit Lake believes real investigations have ever been done. But notice as well that they say things have been “Investigated” and then leave it at that. So if things have been investigated, – when do the prosecutions begin? Everyone at Spirit Lake KNOWS the abuse is really happening – they have seen it with their own eyes. If the FBI has investigated and found nothing – then everyone knows that the FBI didn’t even try. Because nothing is hard to investigate. So much of it is right out there where everyone knows about it.
– Yet the BIA is trying to pretend it isn’t happening. WHY? What’s WRONG with the jerks at the BIA? Do they think tribal members are nobodies, so don’t have to be listened to? Do they think the rest of America doesn’t care about what is happening, and will tire of the story and forget about it? Do they think they can continue to sweep it under the rug?
WATCH THE VIDEO:
WE ARE HERE TO ENSURE THEY CAN’T CONTINUE TO SWEEP IT UNDER THE RUG. This WON’T be ignored.
Traveling Thursday, I stopped to visit a couple that first contacted CAICW several years ago.
Parts of their story are common, parts unusual. Fighting for their child for years, they have rarely had foster care status. This means the care they have given their child has been out-of-pocket most of the time.
This – while the tribal government has refused to allow them any legal status, let alone permission to adopt.
The tribal government has retained control without any obligation to provide financially. Instead, they have treated this couple as glorified babysitters – knowing that the love this couple has will not allow them to turn the child away. Emotional blackmail?
Further – the couple’s attorney had not been allowed to practice in tribal court. This is something that happens in many tribal courts but goes completely ignored by our Congress. Tribal leadership has a right to decide which attorneys can practice in their courts and are inclined to only allow attorneys who agree with tribal sovereignty and will not confront blatant civil rights violations.
The fact that an attorney’s ability to practice can be pulled at the whim of the court is strong incentive for an attorney to play by tribal government rules.
That said – a party with an argument against tribal government, who wants to argue their case on the basis of civil rights, will have to appeal out of tribal court into federal court before their attorney can stand and represent them.
Either that, or choose from among the tribal court’s accepted attorneys who could have an interest in protecting the assumed rights of tribal government first and the rights of their client second.
Congress – you continually claim to be protecting tribal members while at the same time laying law upon law forcing tribal members into a box, with no options other than forced submission to a corrupt tribal government.
(Again – the current version of the Violence Against Women Act forces women
- of every heritage
into tribal court where they can be victimized a second time. I will keep saying this until someone wakes up and does something about it.)
All United States citizens are guaranteed Due Process, Equal Protection and Right to Counsel – Unless our Congress has handed jurisdiction of them over to a tribal court.
BTW – just as a reminder: about 60 tribal governments are currently in the process of changing their constitutions to lower the blood quantum necessary for membership. NO one but current tribal members have any say in this decision.
This is likely to happen – and without the personal consent of those who will find themselves caught up in the net.
I don’t know how many individuals these new memberships will affect, but you can imagine the number of children, like Veronica, with less than 5% heritage, who will now fall under ICWA. They will change overnight from being average American citizens with full rights under the United States Constitution, to being defined as “Indian Children” without full protection of U.S. constitutional rights.
I am in Indiana now. I might stop to see my editor today. We’ve worked together for about a year, but haven’t yet met face to face.
Grace be with you –