[News] Lakota to file UN Genocide Charges Against US, South Dakota

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 29 15:02:45 EDT 2013

May 29, 2013

Human Rights Abuses on Native Lands

  Lakota to file UN Genocide Charges Against US, South Dakota


In April, a grassroots movement led by Lakota grandmothers toured the 
country to build support for a formal complaint of genocide against the 
United States government and its constituent states. Though temporarily 
overturned, the recent conviction of Efrain Rios Montt for genocide 
against indigenous Guatemalans should give US officials, particularly 
members of the Supreme Court, pause before dismissing the UN petition as 
a feeble symbolic gesture.

The tribal elders' 12-city speaking tour culminated in an April 9 march 
on United Nations headquarters in New York and an April 18 press 
conference in Washington, D.C., where the Supreme Court had just heard 
arguments in a challenge to the landmark 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act 
(ICWA). Attracting support from Occupy Wall Street and other non-Native 
allies in the New York march, the Lakota Truth Tour delegation was 
physically blocked by UN security officers from presenting 
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's office a notice of charges against the 
U.S. under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the 
Crime of Genocide.

An excerpt from the complaint, still being refined into its final, legal 
form, reads: "This letter serves notice as complaint, that the crime of 
genocide is being committed, in an ongoing manner, against the 
matriarchal Tetuwan Lakota Oyate of the Oceti Sakowin, an Indigenous 
First Nation people whose ancestral lands comprise a large area of the 
Northern Great Plains of Turtle Island, the continent known as North 
America." As evidence, the Lakota cite systematic American usurpation of 
their land and sovereignty rights, imposition of third-world living 
conditions on the majority of Lakota, US assimilation policies that 
threaten the future of their language, culture and identity, and 
environmental depredations including abandoned open uranium mines and 
the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline slated to invade the Pine Ridge 
Reservation. The Lakota grandmothers and their allies in the Lakota 
Solidarity Project have even produced a powerful, full-length 
documentary, Red Cry, available on DVD or online at 

But the UN complaint is just one facet of a multi-pronged legal, 
political and educational movement within the indigenous Lakota (Sioux) 
nation to stop the state removal of Native children from their families 
into white foster homes and institutions, arguably the most salient and 
best-documented evidence of ongoing US violation of the genocide 
convention. Article 2 of the convention defines acts of genocide as follows:

"...any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole 
or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated 
to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Historically, one could make a case for the applicability of most, if 
not all, of the above provisions to official US policies over more than 
two centuries. Certainly the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Wounded 
Knee massacre (of which the perpetrators have yet to be stripped of 
their Medals of Honor) and Sand Creek slaughter perpetrated by the US 
military in the latter part of the 19th century, the General Allotment 
Act of the same time period, the Termination/Relocation policy of the 
1950s, the FBI's war on the American Indian Movement, and the cumulative 
legal decisions validating the above on explicit or implicit grounds of 
racial or cultural superiority, come to mind as constituting violations 
of contemporary international standards of crimes against humanity, if 
not genocide per se.

Indeed, the ink was scarcely dry on the Genocide Convention before the 
US deliberately set out to violate Article 2(e) by arbitrarily removing 
Native children from their families as part of a comprehensive strategy 
of abolishing reservation boundaries and absorbing indigenous peoples 
into the states that surround and besiege them. In 1950 President Truman 
appointed Dillon S. Meyer, fresh from his experience administering the 
Japanese internment camps with an iron fist, as Indian Commissioner to 
carry out the final solution to the Indian Problem (i.e., their stubborn 
refusal to fade into the mists of history, itself a genocidal concept) 
that has haunted this nation since its inception. It was the formal 
policy and procedure of the United States at the time to forcibly 
transfer indigenous children to white homes and boarding schools as a 
component of a strategy to "terminate" tribes as distinct peoples, 
meeting the essential threshold of intent under the Genocide Convention. 
It would have been embarrassing to say the least if the Soviet Union or 
its allies would have initiated legal genocide charges against the 
self-avowed fount of human liberty at the United Nations. So it was that 
the US celebrated its victory over genocidal Nazi imperialism by 
rebranding the practice in Indian Country as emancipatory individualism 
and refusing to ratify the 1948 convention until nearly 40 years later.

Ironically, it was the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 that enabled the 
US to ratify the Genocide Convention by manifesting its intention to 
stop the wholesale removal of Native children from their families and 
tribes. ICWA established minimal protections of due-process rights for 
indigenous parents and recognized the exclusive jurisdiction of existing 
tribal courts to adjudicate child welfare cases within reservation 
boundaries, also allowing tribes to intervene in state cases. Ratified 
by the US in 1986, the Genocide Convention was not implemented until 
1989, and then only after denying universal jurisdiction and limiting 
prosecutions under the act to a five-year statute of limitations for 
violations of the federal crime of genocide. As a measure of the 
government's commitment to punishing the ultimate international crime, 
the federal offenses of arson, art theft, immigration violation and some 
crimes against financial institutions all carry a statute of limitations 
period longer than five years. Rios Montt himself would be immune from 
prosecution under the federal genocide act.

A remarkable 2011 National Public Radio series, Native Foster Care: Lost 
Children, Shattered Families, revealed that the federal government not 
only fails to enforce the baseline standards of ICWA against the states. 
but actually underwrites the removal of Native children in some cases 
with additional funds, adding an economic incentive to the racial and 
cultural ones. Focusing on South Dakota, a yearlong investigation by NPR 
reporters Laura Sullivan and Amy Walters found that 90% of the 700 
Native children taken from their homes yearly in that state were placed 
in white foster homes or group homes, in blatant violation of ICWA 
provisions mandating that any Indian child taken into foster care be 
placed with a family member, tribal member, or other Native family in 
the absence of "good cause" to the contrary.

Far from punishing states for violations of ICWA, despite its finding 
that 32 states systemically violate its terms, the federal government 
effectively promotes the legal abduction of children by offering a 
$12,000 bounty to the state for permanently removing "special needs" 
children from their natural families to adoptive placement, a 
designation the state of South Dakota applies to all indigenous 
children, according to NPR. Foster families in South Dakota receive as 
much as $9,000 annually for each child. While the federal government 
also provides ICWA workers for each reservation, these typically serve 
as flunkies for the states, at most tepidly attempting to shift federal 
funds to tribal coffers. The NPR report quoted Crow Creek ICWA Director 
Dave Valandra saying, "I get along real good with the state and I have a 
good rapport with them." This fraternal relationship is unhindered by 
the fact that none of the 13 cases Valandra is working on involve 
placement in Native homes, which apparently never occurred to the ICWA 
director before being confronted by a reporter: ""Of my cases right now, 
I think they're all...right now, the placement of the children right now 
are...boy that's, huh," he said.

Perhaps the most damning revelation of the NPR report, however, is its 
tracing of South Dakota's kidnapping for profit scheme to the state's 
highest official:

    "Critics say foster care in South Dakota has become a powerhouse for
    private group home providers who bring in millions of dollars in
    state contracts to care for kids. Among them is Children's Home
    Society, the state's largest foster care provider, which has close
    ties with top government officials. It used to be run by South
    Dakota's Gov. Dennis Daugard. An NPR investigation has found that
    Daugard was on the group's payroll while he was lieutenant governor
    --- and while the group received tens of millions of dollars in
    no-bid state contracts. It's an unusual relationship highlighting
    the powerful role money and politics play in South Dakota's foster
    care system."

If the federal government were to uphold its obligations under ICWA and 
the Genocide Convention, Gov. Daugaard would seem a fit candidate for 
the first indictment of a US-born citizen under the federal genocide 
statute. Thwarted by the five-year limitation, the US Justice Department 
indicted former Rwandan official Lazare Kobagaya in 2009 for allegedly 
lying about his participation in genocide on his application for 
citizenship, but the government failed to prove his involvement in the 
1994 bloodbath and eventually dropped the charges. At a May 15-17 Great 
Plains Indian Child Welfare Act Summit, Daugaard declined to attend, 
despite a personal invitation from US Assistant Secretary of Indian 
Affairs Kevin Washburn, the top federal Indian bureaucrat. So Daugaard 
is not only aware, thanks to the NPR report, of the genocidal effects of 
policies from which he personally profited, but is unwilling to meet 
with the victims toward rectification of the crimes of his Department of 
Social Services, which include the coverup of cases of sexual assault in 
white foster homes and extensive pharmaceutical drugging of children 
without parental consent. Following the governor's lead, no South Dakota 
officials attended the historic meeting, in which nine tribes and top 
federal officials participated, along with more than 200 aggrieved 
tribal members.

The tribal summit and the NPR series were spearheaded by the Lakota 
People's Law Project (LPLP), which has relentlessly challenged the state 
legally and politically and is bringing increasing pressure on the 
federal government to act. Dan Sheehan, chief legal counsel for the LPLP 
and director of the Romero (formerly Christic) Institute, said South 
Dakota officials are "into a total dialectical, confrontational stance. 
They're feeling like they're under siege from the tribes, so they're 
circling the wagons and getting ready to fight." Sheehan said the South 
Dakota legislature recently appropriated $2.3 million to defend the 
state from an imminent class-action federal civil rights lawsuit.

Sheehan traced the institutionalization of state kidnapping of Native 
children back to the late William Janklow, a former South Dakota 
congressman, governor, and attorney general notorious for his role in 
what the the Lakota refer to as the "Reign of Terror" on the Pine Ridge 
Reservation in the years following the American Indian Movement-led 
occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. According to Sheehan, members of the 
George W. Bush administration tipped off Janklow on a Texas strategy to 
grab millions of dollars in federal subsidies by administering a 
psychological test devised by the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical corporation 
to children taken into protective custody. Replicating the strategy, 
South Dakota developed a mental health test failed by 98% of Native 
children, who then become "special needs" cases under federal law, with 
the state receiving up to $79,000 for each Indian child and the child 
being placed involuntarily on psychoactive drugs.

"They ask questions like 'do you feel like people are staring at you 
when you go out in public' in racist Rapid City, or 'do you feel you're 
treated unfairly' to a child who's just been uprooted from his home and 
placed with strangers," said Sheehan.

The immediate priorities of the LPLP, Sheehan says, are to effect the 
transfer of South Dakota child protection services to the tribes and to 
persuade the US Justice Department to serve as lead plaintiff in its 
civil rights suit against the state. The latter is currently on hold 
pending the Supreme Court's decision in the atypical "Baby Veronica" 
case, which challenges the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare 

Sheehan says tribal officials have yet to determine whether they will 
support the Lakota Grandmothers' UN genocide petition, suggesting their 
decision may hinge on whether the Justice Department exercises its 
responsibility to take up their cause domestically. And while it is 
exceedingly unlikely that President Obama or Chief Justice Roberts (who 
termed the minimal protections of ICWA placement standards 
"extraordinary rights" in oral arguments) will ever be called to account 
by an international tribunal for complicity in genocide so long as the 
US refuses to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal 
Court, they may wish to consider the potential damage to their personal 
reputations and that of their nation that even an unenforceable 
international verdict could bring.

Just ask Lazare Kobagaya.

/*Jeff Armstrong* is a longtime journalist and activist in Fargo, North 
Dakota. He can be reached at armstrong at i29.net <mailto:armstrong at i29.net>/

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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