Makenzie Huber

Makenzie Huber

Makenzie Huber is a lifelong South Dakotan whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent five years as a journalist with experience reporting on workforce, development and business issues within the state.

Early Learner South Dakota Executive Director Kayla Klein, left, talks with Lake Area Improvement Corporation Executive Director Brooke Rollag during a session at the Early Learner Summit on Sept. 21, 2023, in Brookings. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

City leaders fund child care center with tax district typically used for roads, sewer

By: - November 22, 2023

Brooke Rollag cannot work without child care. The mother of four is the economic development director for the Lake Area Improvement Corporation in Madison. Her job is to understand what businesses need to locate and expand in the area. And in Madison, those businesses need child care. “Child care is infrastructure,” Rollag said. “When you […]

A student walks home from the Pine Ridge High School through the skate park in Pine Ridge on Aug. 28, 2023. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

A story told in data: Overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the SD foster care system

By: - November 17, 2023

Native American children are overrepresented in South Dakota’s child welfare system — accounting for nearly 74% of foster children in the state at the end of fiscal year 2023, despite making up 13% of the state’s child population. That means Indigenous children have a 22% chance of being removed from their families and placed in […]

South Dakota Searchlight reporter Makenzie Huber and Argus Leader reporter Annie Todd interview Gov. Kristi Noem, Department of Tribal Relations Secretary David Flute and Department of Social Services Secretary Matt Althoff at the Governor’s Office in the South Dakota State Capitol on Sept. 26, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/Argus Leader)

How the Argus Leader and South Dakota Searchlight reported The Lost Children series

By: and - November 17, 2023

Children can quickly lose interest in you when you’re helping them stack blocks, but also when you’re speaking with their grandmother about why she’s caring for them. They fall asleep in her arms as you witness her choke up, flashing back to when she and her younger brothers were split as young siblings at a […]

A tipi at the South Dakota Urban Indian Health summer culture camp in Sisseton. (Courtesy of SDUIH)

What’s being done to address the high number of Native children in foster care in SD

By: and - November 17, 2023

South Dakota government officials, tribal leaders, tribal child welfare coordinators, foster families and legislators agree: The overrepresentation of Native American children in the foster care system is a problem. Indigenous children made up nearly 74% of foster children in the state by mid-2023 — five times the actual representation of Native American children in South […]

Falls Park in Sioux Falls. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

‘We’re going to have these conversations’: New sustainability coalition forms in Sioux Falls

By: - November 16, 2023

A newly formed coalition is encouraging more conversation around sustainability efforts and policy in Sioux Falls and South Dakota. The Sioux Falls Sustainability Coalition is made up of already established organizations in South Dakota, including environmental groups SoDak350, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (which has chapters in Sioux Falls and Rapid City) and Dakota Rural Action, as […]

A girl learns to hoop dance during the South Dakota Urban Indian Health summer culture camp in Sisseton. (Courtesy of SDUIH)

Cultural connection for Native foster children in South Dakota is lacking, foster parents say

By: and - November 16, 2023

Jennifer Johnson wondered if her boys hated her. She and her husband fostered and adopted the three brothers — all under 3 years old — in the early 2000s. The couple provided a safe, stable and loving home for the children, she recalled, but it seemed like the boys would try to sabotage their relationships […]

Juanita Scherich, ICWA supervisor for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, responds to emails in her office in Pine Ridge on Aug. 23, 2023. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Staffing and funding problems leave tribal child welfare offices scrambling

By: and - November 14, 2023

Christian Blackbird isn’t sure how many children fell through the cracks. He’d been at the Crow Creek Indian Child Welfare Act Office for more than a year with a staff of two under his management. But before he started in January 2022, the director’s chair he now sits in was vacant on and off for […]

Jewel Bruner tears up while holding her sleeping grandson Gabriel in her Eagle Butte home on Sept. 20, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/Argus Leader)

Foster families get paid, but not ‘kinship’ relatives caring for Native children

By: and - November 12, 2023

Eighteen-month-old Gabriel slowly fell asleep in his grandmother’s arms at the dinner table. It was mid-morning, and his two siblings were playing quietly with their uncle downstairs. Gabriel didn’t need his crib, or a security blanket or sound machine lulling him to sleep. He just needed his grandmother’s arms — a safe space. His home. […]

Toni Handboy, a counselor for Wakpa Waste Counseling Services, stands inside Inka Najin Oti (“The Red House") addiction recovery house in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation on June 16, 2023. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Tackling substance abuse with families in mind to prevent foster care placements

By: and - November 10, 2023

Sobriety was a 12-year journey for Toni Handboy. She tried to protect her children. She sent her daughter to live with her ex-husband in Oregon. Her son was placed with an aunt nearby after being removed by Child Protective Services. But the impact on her children ran deep. Even though Handboy tried to make sure […]

Jewel Bruner holds her 10-month-old granddaughter Emma on the patio of her home in Eagle Butte on Sept. 20, 2023. (Samantha Laurey/Argus Leader)

‘Setting the parent up for failure’: Reunification barriers reflect root causes of child removal

By: and - November 10, 2023

Toni Handboy and Christian Blackbird are constantly telling their clients not to give up. Handboy, a counselor at Wakpa Waste Counseling Services in Eagle Butte, and Blackbird, the Crow Creek Indian Child Welfare Act director, frequently work with parents trying to get their children back from the foster care system. But complying with reunification requirements […]

South Dakotans sign petitions at Yankton River Boat Days in August. (Courtesy of Dakotans for Health)

2024 ballot question status check: Abortion, open primaries, food sales tax and more

By: - November 8, 2023

The countdown is on. The 2024 general election is about a year out, and South Dakota’s ballot could be a long one: There are 15 potential ballot questions listed on the Secretary of State’s Office website. One question is already set to be on the ballot. Petitions for about half of the other questions are […]

Christian Banley sits in front of her Aberdeen home on Aug. 23, 2023. Banley’s parental rights for two daughters were terminated earlier in the summer. (Samantha Laurey/Argus Leader)

‘Waiting for life to start again’: Family agonizes over parental termination

By: and - November 8, 2023

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story mentions mental health issues. If you need help or know someone who does, please call 988, the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, available 24/7 for free and confidential support.  Home is Christian Banley’s purgatory. The tan, unassuming clapboard house with a sagging awning and an overgrown front yard sits across the […]