A three day summit to explore complaints that a large number of Native American children are being unlawfully removed from their homes and put into non-native foster care wrapped up in Rapid City on Friday. But even though the state Department of Social Services is the target of those complaints, there was no one from the state office at the hearings.
"The DSS came into the picture and took my grandchildren, and it took me a while to get my grandchildren back as a grandmother," Pine Ridge grandmother Susan Two Bulls-Shockey said.
"When we went to court, they didn't let us have a lawyer in court. So they just railroaded my daughter and took my grandson," Pine Ridge grandmother Carmen Yellow Horse said.
Those are just two of the hundreds of allegations made against the state, allegations that led to a tribal summit with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Rapid City.
"That's why I'm here today, to try to get some help from the big people," Yellow Horse said.
In 1978, congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. It requires that Native American kids taken from their homes be placed with family members or Native American foster homes whenever possible. But people here say that's not happening in South Dakota.
"We have feelings and we have laws, federal laws and a treaty that is there to protect us," Two Bulls-Shockey said.
Both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state Department of Social Services turned down our request for an on-camera interview. DSS said in an email to KELOLAND News that it complies with the ICWA law, and has even hired people whose sole purpose is to find relative placement.
But that means little to the people at the summit, who are also upset that the state didn't send a representative to address their concerns.
"Where are they? They needed to speak up, needed to be here to help us. We've got to work together," Two Bulls-Shockey said.
State officials say they didn't learn of the summit until last week, and weren't invited to attend. Despite that, many here are hopeful the public forum will help bring about change.
"I'm hoping today that some of these people get their kids back," Yellow Horse said.