Conrad: Spirit Lake gets help on child protection

Associated Press
Sen. Kent Conrad

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — The U.S. Interior Department has dispatched additional personnel to help the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation deal with child protection problems on the North Dakota reservation, North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad said Friday.

"They have two people who have arrived, social workers, and two law enforcement people en route today," Conrad told the Grand Forks Herald  after talking by phone with an Interior Department official.

On Thursday, Conrad called the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation a "rudderless ship" where children suffer because of a lack of leadership. He said tribal leaders have failed to return his calls and a member of his staff was "visibly upset" by what she saw and heard when she went to investigate the child protection situation on the reservation earlier this week.

The senator said his office has tried to monitor what was happening at Spirit Lake since a federal whistle-blower, an Indian Health Service psychologist and others made allegations about the abuse of children and the failure of tribal social services to cope with the problems.

"We thought those were positive developments," he said Thursday. "I no longer feel this way. I want to see people put in there who are responsible for protecting these children."

Critics have cited the killing of two siblings last year and the death of a 2-month-old infant last month as examples of reservation children being at risk.

No one answered the Spirit Lake tribe's main telephone number Friday afternoon when a call was placed by The Associated Press.

The tribe earlier had issued a statement challenging the motives of critics and faulting earlier media reports as inaccurate and misleading. The statement said most of the problems with child protection programs developed before the current tribal government took office in May 2011. It said the new administration has worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to implement reforms.

Conrad said he told Interior Department officials he wants no delay in addressing the problem.

"I want to talk to people who can get things done right away, and I appreciate the fact they responded right away," the senator said.