‘We’re Still Here’: Western Iowa Tribes Encourage Youth to Embrace Change at Annual Native American Memorial March
Indigenous communities in Northwest Iowa marched through Sioux City this morning to remember children separated from their families and placed in the foster care system.
During the 19th “Memorial Walk in Honor of Lost Children”, indigenous people from the Santee Sioux, Winnebago and Omaha tribes prayed for their children in foster homes. Community leaders and elders encouraged tribal youth to take charge of their future.
“Young people are our future,” said longtime organizer and activist Terry Medina. “So we pass the stories on to our children so that they can learn about the past. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and we can heal it. “
Medina said he was encouraged to see the faces of so many young people in the crowd this year. For the first time, 29 students from Omaha Nation Public School participated in the march.
After learning about the event and its history in his tribal government class, senior Jarius Harlan wished his classmates were part of the march.
“It is very important to us, the children, our people and the younger generations ahead of us,” said Harlan. “People have to realize that the native people are there. And that we will be staying a very long time.
The march began as a protest against the treatment of Indigenous people by the Department of Social Services and Child Protective Services. Over the years, laws like the Indian Child Protection Act and Family First Prevention Services Act helped more Indigenous children reunite with their families.
Medina said the community has been building roads with state services since the march began. Now, he said the tribes are looking for healing, forgiveness and collaboration with reception services.
“They are here with open hearts and they have really come a long way in apologizing,” Medina said. “We have to communicate.
A disproportionate number of Indigenous children remain in foster care. Statewide, 203 Native American children have been placed in foster care, according to the Department of Social Services. Of these children, 70 live with parents or fictitious parents, someone having an emotional bond with the child.
In Woodbury County, Native American children account for 21% of foster care cases, while Indigenous people represent less than 4 percent of the population.
Omaha Nation Public School social studies teacher Brent Wojcik said it was vital for his students to understand their country’s complicated history with the foster care system.
“I think a lot of young people can relate to this system because a lot of them have dealt with the foster care system in the Omaha Nation in Macy, Nebraska. They are therefore delighted to do so, ”he said.
A call to action
The march began at War Eagle Park, a place considered sacred to the community. The group traveled about three miles through town, stopping to pray at the Rosecrance Jackson Addiction Treatment Center, the Urban Native Center and the Woodbury County Courthouse.
At each stop, leaders called on members to act on the work that remains to be done. John Bigeagle Jr. said there was a need to take more responsibility within the Indigenous community.
“My kids were part of the system, but I got them back. I had to sober up and stop drinking, ”said Bigeagle, a member of the Winnebago tribe. “Now I have all my babies and I have my brothers’ children. But, at the same time, we still have a lot of work to do. “
The organizers encouraged more Aboriginal people to become foster parents. Jim Hallum of the Santee Sioux tribe said he had been the foster parent of many of his family’s children. He said he wanted to see more young people take on these roles.
“We shouldn’t even have this problem that we have today with the state of Iowa. Losing our children. We should all step up, ”Hallum said.
There are six Native foster homes in Woodbury County, but none are accepting placements at this time, according to Lutheran Services in Iowa.
“People have to realize that the native people are there. And that we will be staying a very long time.
Jarius Harlan, senior at Omaha Nation public school
Speakers also spoke about how young people could use their education to advance the cause. In a speech to the courthouse, District Court Judge Patrick Tott encouraged students to consider becoming social workers, lawyers or judges.
“Focus on your education. Become part of the system. Make the changes with us inside the system, ”Tott said.
The walk ended with a traditional meal at the Sioux City Convention Center, where a blessing was offered to children lost in foster care.
Manape LaMere, organizer and son of late activist Frank LaMere, said the crowd of over 100 made him optimistic about moving forward with the work.
“It’s a testament to never leave,” LaMere said.