Aƞpétu wašté from the Cheyenne River Nation. As you know, the welfare of our children has been a longstanding issue for Native communities. Centuries of colonization means we’re always in the crosshairs. As I discuss with my granddaughter in today’s video, our people are marginalized — especially our young parents and grandparents — by the State of South Dakota and the Department of Social Services, and our children are taken from us at an alarming rate.
Watch our video to learn more about our work for the children.
We have worked to solve this problem for decades, and we have specifically confronted issues surrounding the Indian Child Welfare Act. In my work with Lakota Law, I’ve seen a lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren. This ultimately spurred me and others to create the Wasagiya Najin (Standing Strong) Grandmother’s Group at Cheyenne River. Wasagiya Najin focuses on what’s happening to our grandchildren, and we dedicate our time to improving our communities’ health and wellbeing from a Lakota perspective.
Our vision encompasses both a Children’s Village on Cheyenne River and a plan to create a Tribal Department of Child Welfare. I’m happy to share with you that we’re well on our way with the village — a place where siblings can stay together and children won’t be lost to the system or worry about aging out. We already have three homes and kinship parents (we don’t use the term “foster parents”). We’re doing all this with support from the tribe, but it is a community-based and operated children’s village, not run by our tribal government.
A tribally-run Department of Child Welfare will be the next big step for us. A centrally-located, multi-service center, it would offer needed support for our parents and grandparents. Right now, it’s far too complicated for parents to access services and resources from the State of South Dakota, which is the only entity handling foster care and adoption on the rez. Our vision will make things easier, give tribal members more autonomy, and also hold us accountable. It’s not our way to terminate parental rights. Instead, we promote family restoration. Children want to be with their families and their people. If we approach it from a Lakota perspective, we can make that happen for many young ones.
We take the pandemic seriously out here, and that has slowed things down. But right now, we’re organizing on the ground and distributing a one-page, anonymous survey identifying family circumstances and gathering feedback about the potential for a tribally-run Child Welfare Office. This data will help us request a reservation-wide hearing and present effectively to our tribal government, which is willing to work with organizers and hear testimony. We’re not looking for approval or permission. We grandmothers have heart for our people and our children, and that’s all we need to get it done!
It’s an exciting time, with positive change happening now and more on the horizon. We’ll have much more to tell you as we move ahead, so please stay with us.
Wopila tanka — thank you for supporting our children!
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project
Lakota People’s Law Project
547 South 7th Street #149
Bismarck, ND 58504-5859