Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp and Congressman Kevin Cramer announced Feb. 8 that senior Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officials have agreed to hold a town hall meeting to apprise tribal members and officials of the progress they are making to protect the reservation’s children as well as to solicit additional information from the community bearing on the issue of child abuse and neglect.
Hoeven organized the meeting with Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior, and other senior BIA officials to provide the delegation with an update on measures they have taken to address ongoing allegations of child abuse and neglect on the reservation.
“We have pressed them not only to use every legal and administrative measure in their jurisdiction to ensure the safety of children on the Spirit Lake Reservation, but also to be transparent and forthcoming with tribal members about what they’re doing,” the delegation said in a joint statement.
Washburn and the officials also indicated that they are working to fully implement the corrective action plan drafted to address foster care and child protective services on the reservation. BIA officials noted that licensed social workers have been deployed to the reservation over the past several months to assist, and the agency is working on building a permanent staff of six for the office. Three permanent staff members are already onboard, and three more are undergoing background checks before hiring.
Last September, the BIA reassumed administrative control over the tribe’s social services programs at the Spirit Lake tribal government’s request following the congressional delegation’s expressions of concern and inquiries about ongoing allegations of child abuse and neglect on the reservation.
Editor’s note: No date for this meeting has been set yet, according to Sen. Hoeven’s communications director. Don Canton expects it will be within the next two, three weeks.