On November 5, 2014, Laura Rena Murray of Al Jazeera America published a story titled “The Standing Rock Sioux fight to get their children back.” It primarily told the story of Lois Thunder, a Native American grandmother seeking custody of her grandchildren. The children were removed from their parents due to issues with alcohol and drugs. Although not nearly as factually egregious as Laura Sullivan’s NPR series on the topic, the piece does suffer from some of the same lazy reporting.
One of the first things that jumped out to me was this very poorly written section from the report:
Had Thunder been at home in Sioux Falls when the state intervened, she would have insisted on a kinship placement for the children, all under the age of 7 at the time. But she was on the Rosebud Reservation 250 miles away to bury her husband, who had just died, and found out about the removal a week later.
“They didn’t even try to call me or look for me to see if I would take those kids,” Thunder says, still incredulous. It was a friend who called to say there were photos of her grandkids, listed as for adoption on a government website.
The immediate impression I get from this section is that Ms. Thunder learned about the removal about a week later when a friend called her after seeing her grand kids listed for adoption on the internet. However, there is no way this is accurate, as children are not listed for adoption on the AdoptUSKids website until parental rights are terminated, and there is no way parental rights were terminated in less than a week. Each paragraph may be accurate in and of itself, but any implication that the kids were listed for adoption within a week of removal is incorrect.
The next thing I wondered was whether Ms. Thunder has any red flags that might mitigate against placing children with her. The biggest such red flag is usually past criminal history. My rudimentary internet searching suggests that someone with that name has been involved in at least ten criminal proceedings in South Dakota magistrate court and one criminal proceeding in circuit court. These numbers are greater if the same person previously went by the last name Archambault. Many, and maybe all, of the magistrate court cases could be little more than traffic offenses. It would be nice if reporters actually looked into these questions though.
The last bone I will pick is that the piece portrays the Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnick class-action case as more than it actually is. That case does not even raise the issue of not complying with ICWA placement preferences. Rather, it addresses the procedures used near the start of a case. It has virtually nothing to do with family members seeking placement at more advanced stages of the proceedings.