Last month, a historical event took place. All nine Sioux Tribes sent members to Rapid City to certify Qualified Expert Witnesses (QEW’s) in Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) cases that take place off Indian reservations. This could mean they would testify in any of the 50 states.
QEW’s have a dual role. Firstly, a QEW represents their respective tribe as an expert in their culture and especially as an expert in Sioux family traditions and values. Secondly, QEW’s can ask for jurisdiction of an ICWA case to be transferred to the child’s respective tribe.
Raymond Cournoyer, a Yankton Sioux Tribe member, is the ICWA Director for United Sioux Tribes. He says he and Dave Valandra of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe began developing the QEW program five years ago.
In ICWA cases, Cournoyer says, “The State always has their qualified expert witnesses in court. In these cases, it usually is not a good outcome for tribal children.” He adds, “The surrounding states such as Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa have been requesting QEW’s from various Sioux Tribes to testify on behalf of the respective tribe.”
Cosponsors of the QEW certification were:
- Belva Morrison – Lakota People’s Law Project
- Murphy Law Office
- Lorina & Cesna
- LLP, Roberts Law Office.
Part of the three-day training was held in Judge Trimble’s courtroom at the Pennington County Courthouse. Mock hearings were held in which the trainees testified. Attorneys from the mentioned law offices questioned the trainees while mock judge, Mato Standing High who is the Attorney General for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, presided.
Belva Morrison of Lakota Peoples Law Project says, “There was much emotion surrounding being in the court of the conqueror and dealing with white man’s law.” She adds, “Another sensitive issue is the perceived injustice of the State’s social services system by Native children and families.”
Once all the emotion was dealt with, Attorney Judith Roberts reminded the trainees that through ICWA, Congress recognizes the importance of keeping mixed and full-blood Indian children in their Indian culture. The trainees were then subjected to vigorous cross-examination.
During debriefing at the Ramkota Hotel, Standing High said of the trainees, “I would take any of you who testified to trial with me today”.
Once the trainees received their certificate of completion, the attorneys present encouraged the now certified QEW’s to return to their tribes and ask for a resolution to be passed recognizing them as tribal representatives and QEW’s.
A great link to the Indian Child Welfare Act