Courtesy Audre'y Eby
Early last year, Audre’y Eby dropped by her former spouse’s home in Iowa to visit her twin sons. She discovered that her blind child had two black eyes, and his head was swollen. The boy hadn’t seen a doctor; when he finally did, Eby recalled, the doctor said he couldn’t suggest the cause of the injuries because they were already healing.

Sioux Mother Rescues Abused Children, Faces Arrest

Stephanie Woodard

The emergency room doctor was furious at what he had seen, recalled Audre’y Eby, who is Rosebud Sioux and the mother of disabled 16-year-old twins. One of her sons, who is blind and autistic, squirmed on the examination-room table, screaming, “Ow, ow, it hurts!” The doctor had found livid red and purple bruises covering his penis and scrotum, according to the Nebraska hospital’s records. Those injuries would soon lead to an arrest warrant for the mother—not because she had caused the harm, but because she did not return her son, along with his wheelchair-bound twin, to their abusers.

Indian child welfare expert Frank LaMere called the twins’ situation more extreme than any he’d seen in his many years of work in the field. “These boys are suffering,” said LaMere, who is Winnebago and the director of Four Directions Community Center, in Sioux City, Iowa.

The day before the ER visit, Eby, who is 45, drove from the Nebraska farm where she lives with her husband, Faron, to pick up her boys from their father in Iowa. It was early August of 2013, and she was going to have them for the once-a-month weekend visit the courts allow her. The boys’ father is Eby’s ex-husband; he has physical custody of the kids, and his live-in girlfriend is their primary caretaker. Eby is Native, and the father and his girlfriend are white—facts that LaMere says overshadow decisions that social-services professionals and the courts make on the children’s behalf.

During the five-hour drive to Nebraska, both twins complained. Eby put the grumbling down to the road trip—a long one for such special-needs kids. The sighted twin has cerebral palsy and can suffer painful muscle spasms, and his brother has residual discomfort from a vehicle accident he was in with his father a few years ago. “We stop for breaks, but it’s a lot of sitting still,” Eby said.

The next day, the blind twin began complaining again, and Eby saw blood in his overnight diaper. Alarmed, she and Faron loaded both boys into their car and headed for the ER. After the exam, at a moment when only health-care personnel were present, the doctor took the opportunity to ask his patient, “Who did this to you?” The child named his father’s girlfriend. The doctor questioned the sighted twin, who confirmed his brother’s story.

The doctor told Eby that the injuries were consistent with being kicked in the groin. He immediately called Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services to report alleged child abuse, hospital records show. Eby says the physician also warned her that if she didn’t keep the boys until their wellbeing could be guaranteed in Iowa, he’d have to report her for exposing children to an unsafe situation: “He said Nebraska law required him to do that.”

Eby’s fateful decision to keep her kids in Nebraska soon led to an Iowa judge issuing a warrant for her arrest. She is trapped between the laws of two states and fearful for her sons’ safety.

The Nebraska doctor’s report launched an extensive investigation by Iowa’s Child Protective Services (CPS). The investigation included another physical exam and interviews of social workers, teachers and others who’d interacted with the twins. The boys participated in a Telemed closed-circuit TV interview observed by social-services and law-enforcement personnel in Iowa and Nebraska. (The twins’ names, and that of their father, whose last name they bear, are being withheld to protect the children’s privacy. All official documents quoted here were obtained under Iowa law.)

Both children claimed the kicking occurred after the blind twin was discovered masturbating. He tells the interviewer that his dad had once threatened that “he’s gonna cut my privates off” for doing that. At one point, the boy begs, “Please help me. I’m scared.”

The investigation led to a determination that the father’s girlfriend caused the groin injuries, which means the abuse was “founded.” The father and girlfriend already had several abuse and neglect determinations between them. CPS gave the twins its highest score for risk of abuse and recommended a criminal investigation.

The girlfriend has appealed the most recent abuse finding, according to Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) documents. No charges appear to have been filed against her. She claimed the boy did the damage to himself and told CPS, “I love the boys and would never do anything to hurt either one of them.”

The father told ICTMN that whatever happened didn’t happen in Iowa and that the couple would appeal more of the abuse and neglect rulings. Over the years, 14 additional allegations have been investigated and dismissed, he noted.

Iowa DHS documents record a startling list of incidents at the father’s home: Among many, the father recently pressed on the wheelchair-bound twin’s nose until it bled, resulting in one of the founded-abuse determinations. On another occasion, the dad poured hot sauce down that boy’s throat while the girlfriend pressed her elbow into his neck to ensure he swallowed it. A social worker recounts watching the father smash a sandwich onto the blind boy’s forehead, purportedly to get him to eat his lunch. The girlfriend has stuffed a cloth down one boy’s throat to silence him. Punishments include cold showers.

Social workers describe quasi-military discipline. “I’m a veteran, and I'm  trying to instill values like honor, loyalty and courage in my children,” the father said. “If that’s wrong, then a lot of parents are wrong.”

Judy Yellowbank, who is Winnebago and the program director at Four Directions Community Center, likened the twins’ treatment to torture. She charged that there’s a double standard in child welfare. “Native parents would be behind bars if they had committed the child abuse and neglect that these two white caregivers have,” Yellowbank said.

Following the recent kicking incident and subsequent abuse finding, Iowa DHS recommended returning the twins to their father’s home, with the caveat that the live-in girlfriend no longer be primary caregiver. When asked how that set-up would work from a practical point of view, the father refused to answer.

One of Eby’s attorneys, Judy Freking, of LeMars, Iowa, asked, “What is the purpose of a child-abuse investigation if, upon concluding that abuse occurred, DHS does not get involved, and DHS does not offer any services to correct the problem that led to the abuse of these boys?”

The father is determined to get the kids back, saying Iowa can provide them more services than rural Nebraska, where the Ebys’ farm is. He recently went to Iowa juvenile court, claiming that his ex-wife was keeping the boys in Nebraska because of “extreme hostility” toward his girlfriend. The judge agreed, writing in an order issued this past September, “It’s apparent this animosity has been a factor.” The judge noted the father’s claim that he had “fully and properly cared for the boys.” The order does not mention the founded abuse and neglect rulings or any criminal investigation.

In October, a district court judge issued an arrest warrant for Eby. She learned of it when it pinged into her email from the Iowa courts’ online system. “I couldn’t cry because my sons were here. I called Faron. He came home from work and sat with the boys, so I could get myself together. Faron has been such a powerful support in all this. We both want the boys living on the farm with us.”

After Eby and the boys’ biological father separated in 2003, when the boys were six, she cared for them. When they turned 12, she thought they should get to know their father. “At the time it seemed like a reasonable idea,” Eby recalled. As the problems in the father’s home mounted, she fought to get the boys back, succeeding briefly in 2011. Through all the abuse and neglect findings, Iowa DHS documents reveal, the agency’s goal has generally been to reunite the twins with their father, and the courts have concurred. He receives their social-security and other subsidies.

Attorney Freking wondered if the situation would have played out similarly if Eby had committed the abuse. LaMere has an answer, and it’s simple: No. He said that Eby’s situation is emblematic of the double standard Yellowbank described. Indian parents are expected to leap enormous hurdles to keep their kids—with no second chances and no benefit of the doubt, said LaMere.

“It does appear that Audre’y and her ex-husband aren’t on equal footing in terms of Iowa DHS recommendations to the courts,” said Freking.

One of Audre’y Eby’s twin sons, who has cerebral palsy, receives stitches in an Iowa emergency room. The 16-year-old and his twin brother live with their father and his girlfriend. According to court records, the girlfriend sent the teen shopping alone in his wheelchair. He got lost and tipped off a curb, gashing his forehead. The incident resulted in one of several abuse and neglect findings for the father and his girlfriend. (Courtesy Audre'y Eby)

Patterns in Indian child welfare

Recently, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services did a home study that confirmed Eby and her husband provide her twins with a good home. However, past turbulence in Eby’s life, including drug involvement as a young woman, may be why Iowa won’t grant her primary custody. “Audre’y has left those problems behind, she’s a good mother, and her home study is positive—but that’s not good enough,” said LaMere. “Many of us Native people have lived tough lives, and as far as the system is concerned, anything we’ve been involved with follows us forever. We are not allowed to grow and change.”

The phenomenon is common in Indian child welfare, LaMere continued. “I see it in meetings I attend with Native parents. The parent has solved the problem that caused the children to be taken away. Perhaps it hasn’t been an issue for years. But that’s never good enough. At one meeting, a social worker announced she’d found dirty dishes in the sink at the Native mother’s home, so she shouldn’t get her kids back. I became unglued. I stressed that the mother didn’t lose her children over dirty dishes, and they couldn’t be kept from her for this reason.”

The problem has its roots in history. Federal policy long supported forcibly assimilating Native people as a way to solve the “Indian problem.” Starting in the late 1800s, Native children were sent to government- and church-run boarding schools, where “Kill the Indian, save the child,” was the mantra. And many did die—of beatings, starvation and disease. Sexual and emotional abuse led others to commit suicide. The pervasive trauma, touching virtually every Indian family, stalks Native communities to this day.

During the mid-20th century, boarding schools were closed or turned over to the tribes, and the Indian Adoption Project took over as the assimilation mechanism. This federal program, aided by states and churches, swept about a third of Native children into non-Native homes. After hearing much testimony, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978 in an effort to stem the social and cultural holocaust.

ICWA established Indian preferences for placement of Indian children when they are taken into care (as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe tried to have done for Eby’s sons after a recent founded-abuse ruling). The law applies whether the children are enrolled tribal members or eligible for enrollment. ICWA allows tribes to intervene on behalf of their children and requires “active” efforts keep Indian kids with Indian families. “Legally, that means more than ‘reasonable’ efforts,” said LaMere. “It means busting your butt to make it happen.”

In the real lives of Native people, it just doesn’t work out that way. “If you’re having any problems with the system, they’ll take your kids anytime they want,” said a Santee Sioux grandfather, whose granddaughter and grandniece died after being adopted out of his family—one at the hands of her new father and the other by drowning.

ICWA may be federal law, but its enforcement takes place county by county, according to LaMere. He described progress in applying the law in one Iowa jurisdiction—Woodbury County, with its large Native population centered in Sioux City. “I have to believe that if Audre’y’s case had been dealt with here, she would have gotten custody of her sons. However, in other parts of Iowa, and in many states, old attitudes persist about Native people.” There’s a sometimes unspoken and sometimes openly acknowledged belief that American Indians can’t or shouldn’t take care of their kids, LaMere said. Neither the Iowa DHS Native Unit, which oversees Native-related cases, nor the Rosebud Sioux Tribe responded to requests for an interview about these issues.

The Iowa courts’ seeming inability to deal even-handedly with Native people causes ambiguities for other agencies, including law enforcement. In a phone interview, local Iowa police chief Dan Kremer, who observed the CPS Telemed interviews related to the blind twin’s ER visit, said at first that some were “out to hang” the father and his girlfriend. “Maybe they need hanging,” Kremer then added, “but so far the courts have not gone after them.” He pointed out that the situation in the home “has been going on for a long time.”

Looking forward

Since the twins have been on the Nebraska farm, they’ve put weight on their once-emaciated frames, and Eby has let their crewcuts grow out. “They look so handsome now!” she said. The other day, she recalled, one son told her, “I don’t feel shrunken any more.” She enjoys seeing them caught up in the rhythms of farm life. “Family comes to visit. We have real sit-down dinners with no TV, and Faron makes root beer floats on Saturday nights.”

Eby called LaMere a critical ally. “He says to focus on the good, pray and be mindful of what we have. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express the pain of all this, but the love I can.”

LaMere sees a lesson: “The Creator sent us these two boys as teachers—to instruct us to renew our fight to keep our kids safe and our families intact.”

For Eby’s family, the future is uncertain. “Something will change, but I don't know what,” she said. “Somehow, life has to be bearable for my boys. Is there anything else I can do?”



Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on

I was shocked at seeing those pictures of the abuse of these children as any decent human being would be. Some may say the washichu father of these children got away with much, but rest assured the Creator will deal with those abusers of our native children in His own way sooner or later. Bad things happen to such wicked ones.

It isn't just the white people who are abusing others either. We see abuse in all peoples & even more so when drugs & alcohol use is involved in such families. There is no excuse for this, yet we see it in many places in Indian Country as well. Broken homes, broken people & broken lives. It always brings me much sadness when I come across such things.

This mother did the right thing; the only thing she could do & keep a clear conscience even though it got her arrested. These conflicting state & tribal laws have got to have some common sense thrown into the pot to stop this insane handling of our people regardless of ages involved. It is wrong arresting people from one state who are doing what their state law says & then get themselves arrested because their state law violates another state's laws. This is insanity! Whatever happened to handing things with some COMMON sense & do the right thing as seen in the Creator's eyes? HIS laws come before any ruling elites laws!

I believe had myself & others seen this abuse first hand we would have been arrested for what we would have done next. Things need to be handled as in the days of the ancestors. Such wicked ones were dealt with one time & they would never repeat such abuse again.

Wicked people in places of authority will be punished far more severely when they abuse their positions to help others by the Creator. Sometimes it happens while they are in the land of the living & sometimes not, but at the time our Creator hands out HIS rulings there will be no mistakes made in THAT court of justice.

chahta ohoyo's picture
chahta ohoyo
Submitted by chahta ohoyo on

sooooo...why dont tribal authorities step in and stop this...i would ass-u-me they had precedence over a white, non-tribal parent...this is ridiculous...sounds to me the father's 'girlfriend' doesnt really want the twins around and does everything she can to make the point their father just isnt picking up on...let their mother and extended family keep them for pity sake

Ben RedEagle's picture
Ben RedEagle
Submitted by Ben RedEagle on

I'd like to find this couple and make sure they don't have to worry about making anymore offspring from either one of their racist POS.
this is why Native people shouldn't have non natives on or near our reservations, all these people want to do is use our genes to get advantages or to think themselves more entitled to living in this country. I hope these Children are given to their rightful parent, their mother, and that the ridiculous charges against her are dropped. more proof that committing genocide against natives isn't enough, we have to persecuted by the white man's dogs in his 'legal' system as well.

like you said Two Bears. there will be a time when all dues are paid in full. I just hope it comes sooner rather than later.

keithduncan's picture
Submitted by keithduncan on

Why not let a Dog Soldier handle the Father and his girlfriend...

James G.'s picture
James G.
Submitted by James G. on

Absolutely disgusting and yes probably the result of racism. I hope the mother gets her children back and that the warrant is dropped. I think the most outrageous thing in this article is where the girlfriend had the audacity to claim that this young man did it to HIMSELF!! WHAT??

And Two Bears Growling, thank you for your rational, well written post. This is about evil people, not races of people. The father and his girlfriend are simply sadistic individuals who get off on abusing the helpless, and I can only hope that some day they will pay for their crimes.

Let me be forthcoming in that I am a white man, but I am not like this monster and I never will be. I am a teacher who loves all children and I do not see skin color, but rather people who treat others as they would like to be treated and those who don't. Please be strong enough to realize that not all people of a certain ethnic group are the same...we are all related in some way and the only way this world will move forward into peace is to treat one another as family.

I certainly can't remove the racist, evil people from this world myself. But I can do my part in making the world a better place by leading by example, and so can everybody else who believes in a better future for all.

patty1019's picture
Submitted by patty1019 on

This is a case of the rights of whites being valued and those of Indians not being valued. It's also a case of judges who believe that half white, half indian children need to have the indian in them killed off. I'm sure this judge thought that what the boy did that his dad's girlfriend kicked him for, was because he was an indian. My own children were abused by social services by whites, and I had no idea then that I had been born to at least one full-blood indian parent! That happened in 1983 and it wasn't until 2001 that I discovered that half of my true heritage. The plan of the whites who raised me never included them ever telling me of my true parentage, let alone my true heritage. Iowa has for a very long time been a state filled to the brim with Christians and it has also been a society ruled over by men. Knowledge is power.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on

James G.,

I will respond back to you seeing things as they truly are. Yes, evil does come in all skin tones, ethnicities, beliefs, etc. I am thankful to the Creator that you appear a good & just human being.

Many times we see injustices take place across Indian Country & it makes us angry that a number of times that evil visits us in the skin of a washichu, however, that isn't always the case my friend, sometimes the evil visits our communities & peoples with the skin color of our very own people.

That is the most tragic of all when our very own people are harming us. Humanity is many times not very humane at all. All people need to stand up against evil people regardless of the origin of the harm of others. We need to stand up & demand justice be handed out to those who harm others regardless of where it happens across Turtle Island.

The true fight in this world are the forces of Light fighting against the forces of Darkness. It grips this world & it's people like a spider wraps it prey. When we each realize what the war is truly about it is then we can unite with others who see the truth as well & stand up against evil ones who seek to harm those we love across this world my friend.

Take care, stand strong & fight the good fight protecting the weak, the aged & the young. Make your area a safer, kinder, more compassionate place while the Creator gives you one more day & breath in this world.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on

Ben Red Eagle,

I will address you as well my friend. You speak with passion, conviction & a heart that seems to have seen some bad things happen to some of our people out here in Indian Country.

However, I will add that not all non-native people around our lands are out to hurt or exploit us. Some areas may be worse than others for this behavior, but having been on our Creator's world a very long time, I know not all non-Indian people are bad out here. I have also seen our very own people out here harm & exploit those in our communities sometimes even worse.

These bad apples as it were, deceived, lied & misrepresented to us things that are no good & sold us a bill of goods as it were. Greed, arrogance & ego comes to all ethnicities of people I have found. The Creator has a just reward for these wicked ones regardless of skin tones, beliefs, etc. As I mentioned in my post, there is no getting away with evil things; just a delay as it were sometimes.

As human beings many times we are not patient for justice to be delivered & want Wankantanka to make it happen sooner than His will decrees. Sometimes we do get to see justice delivered sooner rather than later. There is evil like that that harms our children, our elders & those who are unable to defend themselves. Such wicked ones generally meet a violent end sooner rather than later.

Stay strong, passionate & empowered in our native communities standing up for what is right in Man Above's eyes my friend. Look out for the young ones, the elders & those unable to defend themselves my friend. The more eyes we have out here in Indian Country the better off we will all be. Hoa.

James G.'s picture
James G.
Submitted by James G. on

Two Bears Growling,

Thank you kindly for your reply. I completely agree, we are in a fight together against those who do evil to others. I understand that there are many mean spirited white people who have abused and continue to abuse and discriminate against Indians today, and through that I can understand why some would focus their anger on white people when white people have been the ones committing the vast majority of the crimes. It is a natural reaction to being hurt over and over again.

I see a lot of hope for the future, though. While some of the border towns and the attitude of some people in this country remains very ethnocentric and racist, there is a constantly growing percent of the population of all races, particularly in the newer generations, which wants to see social justice prevail. I believe there will be a day when we reach that point. Until then, I know the strong Lakota people and other Indian nations will continue to endure. Never give up fighting for what is right and just.


rockymissouri's picture
Submitted by rockymissouri on

This is OUTRAGEOUS...!! How can anyone look at those faces and not see the damage....?? As far any judge goes, why wouldn't they just ASK the boys where they want to live.........??? I wish the mother, and her boys, well.

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on

Gotta ask.. Where are the Indigenous leaders???? Why aren't they raising hell?? Can it be that our leaders have been trained and groomed to stay quiet if they want to see any BIA money?
The policies of colonialism continues against the Indigenous, by the descendants of the illegal European immigrants. By any means necessary they will attempt to rid the Indigenous off their lands. There is no ethics morality or legal standing for Americans to allow the policies to be carried out in their name.
Our leaders are stuck in a box, forced to think and make decisions based on the parameters and ideals of a race of immigrant people who leech off other peoples resources like parasites.
And our leaders are silent.. Well trained they are.