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SD: Sioux tribes to discuss foster care, sacred sites

July 7, 2013

Associated Pres, INFORUM

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Enforcement of the Indian Child Welfare Act, protecting sacred sites and the Keystone XL pipeline will be among the topics discussed at a gathering of Sioux tribal leaders next week in Rapid City.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is hosting the three-day meeting that starts Monday. The meeting is the third in a series between the seven Sioux tribes in South Dakota and the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota. The tribes began meeting on a regular basis earlier this year to better focus their resources.

“Experience shows that all going in separately — whether it's Congress or meeting with state officials — it just doesn't carry as much weight,” said Terry Yellow Fat, the Indian Child Welfare Act director for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “But as a group, and we are called the great Sioux Nation, basically we are one family.”

South Dakota's adherence to the Indian Child Welfare Act is a major issue for the tribes, Yellow Fat said. The federal law was passed in 1978 with the intention of keeping American Indian children from being taken from their homes and routinely placed with non-Native American adoptive or foster parents. The tribes say the state has often broken the law; state officials say they haven't.

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn attended a summit about the law in May in Rapid City, and Monday's meeting will be the first time since then that the tribes have met to discuss the results, Yellow Fat said. Tribal leaders will be discussing how to get direct funding from the federal government to run the tribes’ child protective services.

“It's not going to go away. It's not going to correct itself,” Yellow Fat said.

Other issues tribal leaders will talk about their commitment to protecting the Earth, including opposition to the Keystone pipeline, the proposed $7 billion project to carry oil from Canada to Texas that has drawn opposition from environmentalists. Supporters say the pipeline is a job creator that will also boost the country's energy resources.

“We're seeing a lot of global disasters and we're seeing a lot of our climate affecting our ceremonies,” said Arvol Looking Horse, who will discuss the importance of sacred sites. He said climate change has made it harder for tribal members to take part in traditional ceremonies involving dance.

Looking Horse, who lives on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in north-central South Dakota, is a chief and spiritual leader. He is the 19th generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, a symbol of peace among Sioux tribal members.

Looking Horse said leaders need to reactivate sacred sites and people should be visiting them more.

One of those sacred sites is located in the Black Hills and will be discussed in depth during the meeting. Last year the Sioux tribes banded together and raised $9 million to buy back the land they call Pe’ Sla from private landowners who had put it up for sale. An 1868 treaty set aside the Black Hills and other land for the Sioux, but Congress passed a law nine years later seizing the land after the discovery of gold in western South Dakota.

Russell Eagle Bear, a Rosebud Sioux tribal council member, will give an update on the land purchase.

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