About a month ago, I posted about the upcoming ICWA summit that is being sponsored by the BIA on May 15-17 at the Ramkota hotel in Rapid City. I indicated that I would post a copy of the agenda for that summit as soon as one became available. Unfortunately, there has been some disagreement over the agenda, which I assume is responsible for that fact that the BIA has not yet released one publicly. You can read more about these disagreements at the links below:
- Rapid City Journal Story of April 26, 2013
- PR Web Story of May 6, 2013 (paid publication by the Lakota People’s Law Project)
- April 23 Letter of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to Congressman Markey
It appears that there may be last-minute changes to the agenda, but a copy of the current agenda was made available via the PR Web publication linked above. I have converted it to PDF format, and linked it below.
The previously linked letter of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to Congressman Markey provides the most insight into what disputes appear to exist regarding the summit agenda. Specifically, the letter requests about an hour and a half for parents to tell their individual stories, that former Senator and author of the Indian Child Welfare Act, James Abourezk, have a speaking spot, and that there be a segment regarding tribes obtaining funding directly from the federal government for their child welfare programs. None of these three things seems like such a bad idea. However, the remainder of the letter, which complains about a lack of investigation into claimed wrongs highlighted in the NPR reports, provides a good indication of why there does not appear to be any involvement in the summit by the State of South Dakota. Here are a few quotes from the letter:
- “We respectfully reject the notion that somehow, after all the evidence compiled by NPR and by our own ICWA directors showing willful neglect by DSS of ICWA’s placement standards, that we ought to have to “recommend” changes to South Dakota’s foster care system in order to protect our children.”
- “In sum, we hope that the BIA can understand our exasperation with its assumption that we ought to plead with South Dakota to protect our children. Rather, we prefer to demand adherence by the state to ICWA in the short term, and to build our own, federally funded (in part) foster care programs in the medium-long term.”
What I take away from the letter is that the Tribes essentially want a public forum where they can further publicize the perceived wrongs that were supposedly highlighted by the NPR reports. Given that the State denies (for good reason) most of the damning accusations of those reports, a forum involving the State would likely just devolve into a back-and-forth argument about the facts. The State would be at a disadvantage in that argument because it cannot discuss any cases with particularity. If the Tribes want to “demand adherence” by the State to laws it already claims to be complying with, and does not want to work with the State to recommend changes to the system, then it is not surprising that the State sees no benefit to participating in the forum. Maybe some tribal representatives will learn some useful things that they can use to help them improve their own programs, but this summit is not likely to lead to any meaningful change in State practices. This is especially ironic in light of the fact that alleged State practices are what led to the demand for the summit in the first place. The real losers in this situation are Indian children, who are at the mercy of systems shaped by a bunch of adults who cannot get along well enough to work together.