Published May 15, 2016
Miles Stead, a two-year-old Lakota boy, was killed by his foster mother just months after being taken from his home on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. His story should be raising alarms about the rampant removal of Native American children from their families in violation of federal law, yet it has been largely ignored by the national media.
Stead’s foster mother, Mary Beth Jennewein, was arrested in March and charged with second degree murder and four counts of voluntary manslaughter. A hearing held May 11 denied Jennewein a reduced bond. Her conviction is anticipated in June.
Nina Stead, Miles’s biological mother, had no history of child abuse when her son was taken after she was found drinking a beer. If the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) were adhered to, Miles could have been saved, and this injustice could have been prevented.
ICWA is meant to address the widespread separation of Native American children from their families and tribes. Its purpose is to protect the rights of children to live with their families, and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families. The federal law dictates that placement preference for the child is to be given to extended family or tribal families, and that tribes be notified when their children are placed in the foster care system, which provides the tribes a chance to intervene in state proceedings.
However, ICWA is constantly violated. Why? It’s unfortunately simple. Native American children are seen as cash cows. The Department of Social Services (DSS) categorizes Native American children as “special needs,” which brings the state and adopting families extra cash.
South Dakota for example, which is notorious for its ICWA violations, reels in $79,000 per Native American child per year, and families who adopt can claim a tax credit of $13,400. Seven tribal governments endorsed a 2013 report concluding there is “a strong financial incentive for state officials to take high numbers of Native American foster children into custody.”