The South Dakotan American Indian community used to find much fault with the way that state has dealt with them in regard to matters of child welfare.
For example, American Indian children have been placed long-term in foster care with non-Indian families, merely on their say-so that they were members of an American Indian tribe – when they weren’t.
The liaisons in the tribe blamed violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act on poor communications between the state and the tribe.
Over the last few years, however, things have gotten much better in South Dakota.
Communications have improved, thanks to a governor’s task force and the Collaborative Circle.
The Circle has representatives from the state, various social services experts and all the regional tribes. The Circle meets quarterly and its executive council meets monthly.
Today, American Indians have been certified to serve as foster parents and families. This has helped to keep American Indian foster children within their tribes.
Today, American Indian children’s cases are more smoothly moved to tribal courts when there are custody disputes and related issues.
Now, the tribes have set their sights on educating judges and expert witnesses, as they have educated social services workers.
South Dakota has become a model for other states that have not made comparable progress in state-tribal relations – despite similar measures.