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Advocates assess next steps after Native children welfare bill fails

Advocates for Native children's welfare are determining their next step after the legislature defeated a billfunding a task force to study issues facing Native children in the foster system.

Native children make up a disproportionate number of children in the state’s foster care system, which led to the initial interest in the study.

Rep. Peri Pourier, in a recent appearance on SDPB’s In the Moment, said this has been on lawmakers minds for some time.

“This has been a longstanding issue, for as long as I could remember, at least documented about 20 years," Pourier said. "It’s been at sixty percent of children in the system are Native children. They wanted to come together and address it; the Oglala Sioux Tribe declared a state of emergency last year.”

Pourier said the issue requires involvement from state government.

“What do we do now? Well, we go back to the drawing table. The fight never ends until positive outcomes happen for Native children," Pourier said. "A lot of people will probably say, I hear this time and time again ‘why don’t the tribes just fix it on their own?’ We are South Dakotans as well. Yes, we have tribal nations, but there are Native children all across the state of South Dakota who are tribal members, and who are South Dakotans.”

It’s an issue that touches every corner of South Dakota’s Native community. Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Chairman Clyde Estes thanked the bills sponsors, saying he doesn’t expect this issue to go away after this session.

“With some of the sponsors of the bill and the support we have in tribal and state supporters, we’ll bring this issue back up again," Estes said. "The fact of the matter is that tribal and state leaders need to find a better path forward to work together to put aside our differences and do what’s best for all South Dakota children."

SB191 died on the floor of the state House, just one step away from the Governor’s desk. Opponents raised concerns over costs and the members making up the committee.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture
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