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Associated Press, Published April 26 2012

Top federal official touts ND Indian youth program

BISMARCK — The No. 2 official in federal law enforcement said Thursday his department is keeping an eye on a pilot program in the Dakotas that is designed to keep American Indian youth from making bad choices, and may incorporate it elsewhere.

James Cole, deputy attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, said his visit to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation a day earlier piqued his interest in a youth outreach series led by Gary Delorme, an assistant U.S. attorney in North Dakota.

The program features speakers who talk about Internet and texting safety, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, and gangs.

"Gary is bringing in people who really know how to relate to the kids," Cole told The Associated Press before delivering the keynote address Thursday morning at a tribal conference in Bismarck. "These are the kind of open and candid exchanges that will help kids think about their consequences."

Cole said the program is unique and he expects his department to analyze the North Dakota results.

"A lot of what we try to do is science based," Cole said. "It's not just, boy, this sounds like a good idea, let's do it. We have ideas that we start as pilots. We may not have data, but we try to look at whether there has been some success or tangible effects.

"When we do see that, then we're going to import these into other places," he said.

Standing Rock straddles the border of North and South Dakota. Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney in North Dakota, said a similar program is planned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Janice Morley on the Spirit Lake reservation in northeast North Dakota.

"It's an experimental program, but boy, we like what we see here," Purdon said.

North Dakota contains all or part of four Indian reservations: Fort Berthold, Spirit Lake, Turtle Mountain and Standing Rock. A small amount of tribal trust land belonging to the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe also exists in southeastern North Dakota, although the vast majority of the reservation is located in South Dakota.

Cole acknowledged that while he received a welcome response from students Wednesday during an appearance at Standing Rock High School, in Fort Yates, the loudest ovation was saved for Delorme. Delorme promoted his final event of the school year, and promised to be back in the fall.

"I'm trying to get you guys to see what implications your decisions today have on your future," said Delorme, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. "My primary message to you is, I don't want to see you in court."

Cole told tribal and law enforcement leaders in his keynote address Thursday that the North Dakota youth outreach plan is an example of a 2010 Justice Department directive to have U.S. attorneys engage directly with Native American governments.

"Our role as the sole prosecutor for serious violent crimes makes our responsibility to citizens in Indian country unique, and we take it seriously," Cole said.

Federal filings on North Dakota Indian reservations are up 78 percent between 2009 and 2011, Purdon said. He said it's not necessarily an uptick in crime, but an increase in cases taken up by federal prosecutors.

"The assembly line is the same. We're just taking more packages off of it," Purdon said.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.