Stephanie Woodard
A view of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation outside the capital in Fort Yates, North Dakota.

Standing Rock Sioux Move to Rescue Children, Accuse State of Genocide

Stephanie Woodard

Citing the 1987 Proxmire Act, which enables the United States to prosecute acts of genocide, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has asked the federal government to file suit against the state of South Dakota for crimes against tribal children. The tribe’s homeland is in the prairies and badlands of North and South Dakota; one of its most revered leaders was Sitting Bull, who is said to have prayed Native forces to victory at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Standing Rock’s tribal council urged the United States to take action in a September 17 resolution claiming that South Dakota has been taking its children into care and adopting them out of the tribe illegally, in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The resolution was passed the day after a child-welfare advocate informed the council that a young tribal member whom the state’s Department of Social Services (DSS) had placed with a white adoptive couple was homeless on the streets of Aberdeen, South Dakota.

The advocate, Shirley Schwab, recalled tracking down the 18-year-old. “When she came into the Burger King where we’d agreed to meet, I saw that her life had been reduced to what she could fit into a small blue duffel bag. No driver’s license, no money, no cell phone, little more than the clothes on her back.”

“When she turned 18, she exercised her right to live on her own,” said the teen’s adoptive mother, Wendy Larson Mette. “As far as I knew, she was living with friends, going to school.”

Schwab said a fellow Aberdeen resident had contacted her about the teen’s plight because of Schwab’s prior knowledge of the girl. Public court records show that in 2010, the teen and her siblings reported that their adoptive father, Richard Mette, had sexually and physically abused them for more than a decade. A deputy state’s attorney initiated a law-enforcement investigation. Police visited Richard and Wendy Larson Mette’s house and found sex toys and stacks of pornographic magazines and videotapes in bedrooms and common areas. The children were moved to another home. Schwab became their court-appointed special advocate.

DSS appears to have been long aware that this was a problem household. As early as 2001, Richard and Wendy signed an agreement, now a court document, with DSS. In the agreement, the couple, who are divorced, promised DSS officials to lock up their pornography and stop “swatting, spanking, kicking and tickling” the foster children placed with them. DSS later allowed the couple to adopt most of the children.

When asked if she believed her children had been sexually abused, Larson Mette said, “I fully believe and support my children in this accusation.” She said she found her ex-husband’s treatment of the children “horrifying,” but said that over the years, she had never noticed any indications of the sexual abuse, including related injuries or behavioral changes: “What are perceived to be the obvious signs were not there. They had great attendance in school.”

Larson Mette called the 2010 police report accurate in terms of “room location or quantity” of pornography, but claimed that over the years she had personally seen only some of the material.

Court records and local media reports show that South Dakota cut a deal with the father, who is now serving the relatively light sentence of 15 years for child rape. The state dropped cruelty charges against Larson Mette, and despite allegations that she had tolerated the sexual abuse, returned the children to her.

The state then undertook to discredit publicly the children and their advocates. This included a retaliatory prosecution of Schwab and the deputy state’s attorney, who were fully acquitted at trial. Court documents and sworn testimony show state criminal investigators took the teen and her younger siblings to a basement interrogation room in order to get them to recant the abuse claims. The children were interrogated individually, without an adult present on their behalf. They wept and said they were frightened, but none recanted.

“When I met the 18-year-old and saw what her life had become after such trauma, I was devastated,” said Schwab. “I could hardly breathe.”

Within a few days of Schwab contacting Standing Rock, the tribe had flown the teen to safety with tribal kin out of state. “Our chairman said, ‘She’s our relative, get the plane ticket now,’” recalled tribal councilwoman Phyllis Young, who added that adoptive and foster parents have been known to turn children away after they turn 18 and government subsidies end.

Young said that three Standing Rock children remain in the Larson Mette home, and the tribe is very concerned about their safety; as a result, it will sue for custody. The councilwoman noted that in recent years Standing Rock children have been victims in notorious and widely reported South Dakota cases involving sexual abuse by white adoptive fathers, all of whom are serving time.

“If they file, I will do whatever is necessary,” said Larson Mette. “My children are happy. I love them, they love me. We are trying desperately to put our lives back together and move forward.” She called that a “fair” representation of their situation.

In addition to moving to protect young tribal members, Standing Rock has requested that the South and North Dakota Congressional delegations hold hearings on Indian child welfare. The tribe has also contacted the United Nations about submitting material for the United States’ upcoming human-rights review.

Importantly, the tribe is working with the federal government to develop its own child-welfare infrastructure. This will help solve a problem that tribes and Indian-child-welfare advocates have long decried—South Dakota’s habit of taking Native children into custody and placing them in white households and white-run group homes, thereby undermining tribal culture and sovereignty. The Oglala and Rosebud Sioux tribes and the American Civil Liberties Union recently sued the state in a related matter.

“This all epitomizes the state of South Dakota’s total disregard for Native children,” said Schwab.

Neither South Dakota’s attorney general nor DSS director replied to requests for comments on any of these matters.

“The language of the Standing Rock tribal council resolution is both specific and global,” said Young. “We act on behalf of this teen and her siblings, and for all Native children who have been taken from their tribal communities.” The Proxmire Act includes reparations, she said, and the tribe wants the children’s reparations to include lifelong therapy for the abuse they have suffered.

“What is happening to our children is like war crimes,” Young continued. “We heard terrible things at hearings we just held at Standing Rock. Over the years, many Indian women have asked me to help get their children back. Some of our children the state has in its custody right now are Sitting Bull descendents. This has historic dimensions. We at Standing Rock are taking this to the limit.”

RELATED: South Dakota Sex-Abuse Perjury Case Collapses

RELATED: South Dakota Tribes Charge State With ICWA Violations

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evelyn goodshot-segovia's picture
evelyn goodshot...
Submitted by evelyn goodshot... on
It is good to see this article. My father is Lakota. My mother's mother wouldn't let my mother tell him about me. She proceeded to force my mother to relinquish me and took all the way across the state of Nebraska so I could not find them. I looked TOO Indian. My adopted mother harassed me to always pass for White. She is White. She kept trying to force me to deny that I am Lakota. This is what White couples do. They try to make White of us.

jeanette whiteacre,'s picture
jeanette whiteacre,
Submitted by jeanette whiteacre, on
when will this stop, children need 2 b with family that can teach them the ways of the tribe n carry on tradition

Shirley Schwab's picture
Shirley Schwab
Submitted by Shirley Schwab on
I applaud the strong leadership efforts of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they go forward with this very important movement to protect the human rights of their Native children.

Shirley Schwab's picture
Shirley Schwab
Submitted by Shirley Schwab on
I applaud the strong leadership efforts of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as they go forward with this very important movement to protect the human rights of their Native children.

Shirley Schwab's picture
Shirley Schwab
Submitted by Shirley Schwab on
I applaud the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for their strong and remarkable leadership as they move to protect the human rights of Native American children. It is long past time their story is told loud and clear for the nation and world to hear.

Shirley Schwab's picture
Shirley Schwab
Submitted by Shirley Schwab on
I applaud the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for their strong and remarkable leadership as they move to protect the human rights of Native American children. It is long past time their story is told loud and clear for the nation and world to hear.

Val N.'s picture
Val N.
Submitted by Val N. on
So very sad and disturbing. I hope there are social and legal recourses to help native Americans preserve their families. I am only distantly related but I feel very strongly about preserving cultures of all nations.

C Blackwolf's picture
C Blackwolf
Submitted by C Blackwolf on
It is good to see through the vail that has been been put over the publics eyes by our gov.. they need to pay for what has been done..

Terri Fields's picture
Terri Fields
Submitted by Terri Fields on
We have a white family at church who has adopted 3 Lakota children. The mom told church members that their tribe didn't want them. But I asked about ICWA and now the family won't speak about their adoption. Sadly, this family isn't supporting their cultural education. Assimilation at its finest. So glad the state will be investigated.

Rachel 's picture
Submitted by Rachel on
I am Potawatomi and fostered children through ICW I am disgusted with DSS but not surprised I am in such a state of anger over the abuse & neglect of our people from the beginning. I just dont understand how these people can sleep at night or look in the mirror they are no better than the pathetic abusers and should be charged as such!!! they are suppose to protect children no matter color religion sex etc....shame on them all of them!!!!

Jolene Begay's picture
Jolene Begay
Submitted by Jolene Begay on
It is emotionally devastating to our people that this is common! My father and all 6 of his brothers and sisters were at some time mentally, emotionally, physically, And sexually abused in their white foster home. The stories seem to come out of some terrible movie or novel but they are true! I'm pretty sure they all ran away and my dad lived on the streets from 13 to 17. I became a registered foster parent myself and it took me 2 years to finally get my youngest brother who was taken in to foster care. This is all absolutely ridiculous and I am so thankful that our Lakota people are moving in the direction they need to to save our children.

Rosalind Whitehead's picture
Rosalind Whitehead
Submitted by Rosalind Whitehead on

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
"Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; Article 2;(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Article 7; 2. Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group's picture
Submitted by annegretallison... on
No foster or adopting couples should be allowed to change the children in their care in any way. These couples should me made by law to ensure in any way that the children in their care get the chance and possibilities to go to pow wow`s, go and meet up with other native children (mainly from their tribal background), they should make sure that these native kids are getting the chance of learning their tribal language (for example apache or sioux/lakota), learning about spirituality, learning their tribal dances etc. Culture matters and is very important and for children who grow up in Foster care or being adopted it is even more important not to lose their roots. If Foster parents or adopting parents don`t want to give those children in their care these possibilities, then they should adopt children from backgrounds which are more suitable for them (like all the poor white children who are also looking for a home). If I would live in America and would foster a child with native american background I would make it my first priority that the child in my care would get all these possibilities, to make sure the child grows up happy and have the knowledge of his/her roots and culture.

linda hale's picture
linda hale
Submitted by linda hale on
move forward standing rock. tribal matters need to be handled within in their tribe especially when it comes to their young.the tribe i believe would keep the children safer than turning them over to the white race.a child needs to be proud of their heritage and who they are.i stand with "STANDING ROCK"

Rose Romero's picture
Rose Romero
Submitted by Rose Romero on
This really amounts to making it legal for whites to adopt and basically do what ever they want It should not even be legal for them to adopt and they want to for money most of them CThey are not all bad but most are not good stop taking the children and then putting them somewhere as bad or worse then what you are taking them from

Nina Jean McCloskey's picture
Nina Jean McCloskey
Submitted by Nina Jean McCloskey on
I am not of Native American ancestry but would be so very proud if I was. Stories as this just make my blood do we allow such things to occur. My heart just aches for these blessed children whose ancestry is wrought with abuses and to now find it is still going on. I admit to ignorance . It never occurred to me that such conditions still existed. Why, in God's name, cannot we not allow this culture to live as they choose; raise their own children ; continue their own practices and know the justices promised in the Constitution. If we would stand up on their behalf and boycott tourism to the Dakotas till they complied maybe that would help but, getting Americans to defend anything other than sports injustices is almost impossible. I say wholeheartedly SHAME ON US!

Mamie's picture
Submitted by Mamie on
If the Dept. of Social Services in South Dakota allows people who collect large amounts of pornography to become foster parents, and then later adopt the children and abuse them -- what kind of a sick, twisted system are we talking about? This is outrageous. The Tribes need to find a way to protect their children and return them to their relatives. DSS in South Dakota needs to be closely examined by the federal Justice Department for violating the human rights of Native American children.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
This is Up-setting, South Dakota laws are so backwards and not for Native Rights.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
This is the most awful report that I have ever read. I am Native American and have known much prejudice in my life, but never anything unlawful. The white man is not finished abusing and making Native Americans pay for our defending our lands long ago. I am a teacher and will be moving to Wyoming in a year. I am 63 years old but I will do what I can to help my people.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
On the 175th anniversary year of the Trail of Tears this is an international disgrace. The Children need to be returned to the tribe immediately and the state social service workers should be charged with war crimes.

Guest's picture
Submitted by Guest on
I really wish the author would visit the website of the ND and SD US Attorney and read the various press releases about the abuse (physical and sexual) of the Native American children at the hands of adult Native Americans. This is not only a problem off the reservation and only with white foster and/or adoptive parents, this is happening in the own backyard of the council members that are quoted in this story. Can we expect to see a story about the rampant abuse by those individuals that are Native American and live on the reservation?

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
the NCAI should, somehow, deny all Native adoptions and ban that sick organization that keeps themselves in business adoptions until they get something in writing that's permanent. Each tribe would have to declare their bans until the NCAI issues one. These young girls are selling their babies and the lure of money is in their eyes. Instant satisfaction is a mother for mothers in NDN country.

Bubblegum's picture
Submitted by Bubblegum on
This article is only pointing out the bad stuff of foster care and adoption. What the standing rock Sioux tribe doesn't realize is all of the good stories that people actually do to their children. This articles is propaganda for there cause.

Ms Wilson's picture
Ms Wilson
Submitted by Ms Wilson on
I've experienced the State of Washington taking my child and if my Dad hadn't come from South Dakota with a tribal court order, I would've lost my girl forever. They failed to care for her properly while in foster care and during visits I saw her skin was cracked almost to the point of bleeding on her face. I had told them how to prevent this and given them the ointment right when they took her. They had her out in a farming community. I was subsidizing farmers with my child. With my son, I knew to get clear before they could take him from me in California. Here in SD I've sat in on ICWA hearings and the tribal members are disrespected and their legal rights are trampled. I've been waiting for something to grab me, this is it. Contacting ICWA and getting involved. Urge others to do the same.