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At Annual March, Sioux City-Area Native American Community Encouraged To 'Take Responsibility' For Sacred Sites, Traditions

Katie Peikes
For an 18th year, the Native American community of Sioux City, northeast Nebraska and southeast South Dakota embarked on their tradition of memorializing their children "lost" to the non-Native foster care system.

During an annual march on Wednesday in Sioux City, the Native American community in northwest Iowa and the larger tri-state area remembered children removed from their homes and placed into the country’s non-Native child welfare system. At one of their stops for prayer, the group memorialized children who have died in foster care and looked forward at their own solutions of healing.

Outside of the Urban Native Center in Sioux City, a group of Native American men sang a song for the children who have died in foster care. Nate Big Fire of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska talked about how parents’ choices influence their children’s choices. He said when parents drink or do drugs, their children suffer.

“And when we do that, we lose contact with our children. It separates them,” Big Fire said. “So when they go out, they’re looking for that love that the mom and the dad should be giving to them. And they find it in a group of friends, or they find it in alcohol or they find it in drugs.”

Big Fire continued, "With the power of that love, if we give it to our children we could heal our children, we could doctor our people. That's how powerful it is."

Manape LaMere, who belongs to the Hocak and Dakota tribes, spoke about his hopes and dreams for the Native community. Among them, he said he wants to bring a teepee to War Eagle Park, a burial ground in Sioux City for Native American leader Chief War Eagle and his family. LaMere, who is the son of deceased activist Frank LaMere of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, said he wants to “take more responsibility” for War Eagle Park.

“That’s a sacred site,” said LaMere, who was also one of the march’s organizers. “It’s not a park.”

LaMere said conversations have been ongoing about the disparities in the foster care system. Speaking with reporters, he said the Native community also needs to look at solutions it can provide for itself.

“We have our own medicine, we have our own way, we have our own evidence-based methods that have worked for thousands of years,” LaMere said.

One form of medicine and new addition to the memorial march this year was several horses for people to ride. LaMere pointed out that one of the horses did not have a rider, which he called a “spirit horse.”

“The intention is that maybe the spirit of these young children are riding that horse,” LaMere said.

Data from the Iowa Department of Human Services that IPR requested showed 58 Native American children throughout Iowa were placed into foster care from March to last Friday. More than half of those children were placed with a relative or an adult known to the child.

In Woodbury County, 26 Native children were placed into foster care from March to last Friday and 20 of those children were placed with relatives. With more children sent to live with relatives, LaMere said “statistically there’s progress,” but he wonders how much isn’t accounted for because of the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine. He added part of the responsibility of foster parents of a Native child is making sure the child stays connected to their culture.

“It's hard to regulate and keep track of whether foster parents are providing cultural awareness to that child,” LaMere said. “And what does that really look like?”

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter