Members of South Dakota's Indian tribes say they've watched for too long as the state's Department of Social Services removed children from the reservation and placed many of them in white foster homes.
And Thursday, they're took legal action.
Holding signs that read "Indian families have rights," and "When did kidnapping become legal?" members of several tribes stood in front of Rapid City's federal building.
The gathering preceded the filing of a class action lawsuit on behalf of three families alleging that the state's DSS has violated the Indian Child Welfare Act.
"It is disturbing how often Indian children are separated from their parents, tribes an d communities based on flimsy evidence," said Stephen Pevar, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Racial Justice Program. "Whenever a family goes through the difficult separation process, state officials must ensure people's fundamental rights are not thrown out the window. These children, parents and tribes are entitled to more by federal law."
Federal law requires that Native American children removed from homes be placed with relatives or put in foster care with other Native American families except in unusual circumstances.
This group claims that's not happening; native parents aren't receiving due process and the state isn't doing its part to keep Native children in Native homes.
"We're not looking for money, injunctive relief; we're looking for a systems change. We want the state to come to the table and say 'we want to work with you and do what's best for these children," said Juanita Scherich, member of the Coalition of Sioux Tribes.
"I know what we're up against but we have to keep fighting because we cannot - I don't believe - we can let native children go outside the tribe," said Mary Black Bonnet, who was adopted by a non-Native family.
The Department of Social Services has acknowledged a disproportionate number of Native American children are involved in the child welfare system.
Officials say this is because the state receives more referrals for alleged abuse and neglect involving Native American children.