Winter has turned to spring here in the Dakotas, and the yearly promise of new life and fresh growth has arrived. In that spirit, I write to you today with an update on the progress of our new Standing Rock teen center project, which I’m happy to say your generous support is making into a reality. As can happen with projects of this magnitude, we’re working through a small snag. But we won’t let anything get in the way of its completion!
As of a few weeks ago, we’d identified a wonderful building for sale on Main St. in the city of McLaughlin, Standing Rock’s second largest town. It’s just a couple blocks from our foster home, and we were excited about the location. Importantly, our vision for putting the teen center on Main St. includes helping revitalize the primary artery in a community struggling to keep businesses open and buildings from decaying.
Sadly, though, the non-Native property owner of the building — once he realized our goals — took the building off the market “due to family issues.” So it’s disappointing, to say the least, that his for-sale sign came down for just two weeks before it was back up in the window. Surprise, surprise, blatant racism is alive and well in South Dakota, even at Standing Rock. So we’re now talking to lawyers about the Fair Housing Act and considering a threat to sue, as we also look at other properties in town.
It has been more than five years since Standing Rock had a safe, fun place for teenagers to go after school. Even as Standing Rock captured the attention of the world during NoDAPL in 2016, the children of this community had no place to enjoy themselves in the afternoons. As managers of McLaughlin’s Lakota-run foster home, we’ve seen youth drift into substance abuse and other bad behavior because of neglect. Making kids feel supported is so important; that’s why, in partnership with you, we’re continuing to do our part.
We’ve been protecting Lakota children now for 15 years; our work began with a focus on fixing the foster care crisis in Lakota Country, and we still prioritize efforts to enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act. In solidarity with the children, Lakota Law co-director Daniel Paul Nelson produced this original music video highlighting the urgent need to make South Dakota stop taking Native kids from Native communities. We hope you’ll accept a gift from us and download the tune for free here.
Wopila — thank you for standing with our children!
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project