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4 years after Fargo parental kidnapping, 2 children remain on SD reservation

FARGO — It's now been four years since a Fargo mother whisked away her two children to a remote Indian reservation in northwest South Dakota, for which she was later convicted of parental kidnapping.

Despite a tribal court ruling in April that said the girls should be returned to Fargo to their fathers, who have been awarded custody in North Dakota courts, the case is still tied up in legal proceedings.

A ruling by a Native American tribal appeals court on Tuesday, Sept. 25., didn't help settle the case either.

In the jurisdictional battle involving the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and North Dakota courts, it's an issue that has dragged on since Tricia Taylor drove off with her two young girls just before Labor Day in 2014 and was soon charged and convicted of parental kidnapping.

After that April ruling by the Cheyenne River tribal court, the Fargo fathers, Aarin Nygaard and Terrance Stanley, finally thought they might get their daughters, ages 5 and 11, back home.

The next day, however, Taylor's half-sister, Jessica Ducheneaux, who has been caring for the children on the reservation, filed an appeal.

A decision on the appeal, after many deadlines were missed, finally came on Tuesday.

The appeals court denied taking temporary custody away from the half-sister for now. It didn't rule either way on the April tribal court decision on which court has jurisdiction in the case.

Rather, the three appeals court judges called for hearings later this year and expanded the case to include why Taylor was arrested in the first place on the reservation and asked that subpoenas be given to the FBI, who arrested her, and the South Dakota Department of Social Services, who apparently determined that the girls could stay on the reservation with relatives after Taylor was taken back to Fargo to face the kidnapping charges.

The three-man appeals court, led by Chief Justice Frank Pommersheim, who is also a professor of law at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and wrote the ruling, said the case should involve what's in the best interest of the two girls and ordered a written report on the status and wellbeing of the children.

"It's a joke. It's been four years of fighting and $100,000 later and it's still not over," said Michael Nygaard, Aarin's uncle and family spokesman, who noted that North Dakota courts have repeatedly approved custody of the children to the fathers.

Nygaard said they are even more upset after Tuesday's ruling by the appeals court that oversees decisions in the Cheyenne River tribal court.

The tribal court called in a judge from outside the Cheyenne River reservation to try to settle the case earlier this year, Judge Erin Shanley of the neighboring Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

In her 12-page ruling, Shanley said the tribe no longer had jurisdiction in the case and the temporary custody of the girls by Ducheneaux should be ended.

Shanley cited Supreme Court rulings and also addressed issues involving the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act in favor of the fathers.

She had harsh words for the South Dakota Department of Social Services saying they "created a jurisdictional disaster when they agency failed to contact" the fathers after Taylor was imprisoned for parental kidnapping.

Taylor and the extended family have alleged abuse and neglect by the fathers in Fargo, one reason why they refuse to voluntarily give up the children. However, the North Dakota courts and prosecutors said those allegations are unlikely because no charges against the fathers were ever made.

Shanley also said the DSS is required by law to to investigate and document such abuse, which was never done.

So now, four years later, Michael Nygaard said the tribal appeals court is simply doing another stall tactic by setting more hearings into the issue.

And their answer, according to Nygaard's lawyer, Rose Ann Wendell of Pierre, is to take the case to federal court.

"We're not getting any remedies in tribal court," Wendell said. "It's just sad and horrible."

She said she has worked on another case where the children were away from one parent for so long that they didn't want to go home with their real mother.

"We haven't gotten anywhere in four years now (in tribal court)," said Michael Nygaard. "Why should we expect anything to change now?"

Meanwhile, a reward is also being offered for Taylor, who cut off her ankle bracelet while she was allowed to go to Bismarck from Fargo and once again ran off to the reservation.

Michael Nygaard said she isn't even living with the two girls.

She is wanted by the Cass County Sheriff's Department for her probation violation on the parental kidnapping charge, he said.

Repeated calls made to Cheyenne River tribal chairman Harold Frazier and Pommershiem were not returned.