Two South Dakota tribes and Native American parents filed a class action lawsuit this morning in Rapid City Federal court. The group is suing the Pennington County State's Attorney and other county officials alleging they weren't given adequate hearings when their children were taken by the state and placed in foster care.
Native American demonstrators from across the state gathered outside the federal courthouse in Rapid City to show support for the class action lawsuit brought by the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux Tribes.
"I'm here to support our sister tribes on a lawsuit that's being filed in the federal courts and it has to do with the 48 hour hearings. It all comes down to ICWA, the Indian Child Welfare Act," Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member Bob Walters said.
At issue, attorneys for the tribe and the ACLU say are a systemic violation of parent’s rights in Pennington County.
"One of the most precious rights that all of us have under the United States Constitution is the right to a prompt and meaningful hearing if state officials should ever take our children away from us," ACLU Attorney Stephen Pevar said.
The plaintiffs say they weren't allowed to defend themselves against allegations of child abuse or neglect at their initial court appearances.
"I was not allowed to do or say anything to prevent the state or DSS from taking my children. It was not until more than four months after DSS took my children from me and put them into foster care I was given a chance in court to determine if my children had been neglected," Plaintiff Rochelle Walking Eagle said.
The lawsuit doesn't ask for money, instead it calls for a change in the state's process to remove children from their families.
As for the state's response, calls made to many of the defendants in the lawsuit were not returned by our deadline and the State Department of Social Services declined to comment.
The defendants in the case now have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.