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Chuck Haga and Patrick Springer, Forum Communications, Published July 13 2012

SPECIAL REPORT: Hoeven to seek Indian child abuse hearings

GRAND FORKS – Ryan Bernstein, deputy chief of staff for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Friday the senator is “pushing for hearings” by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on the issue of child abuse and neglect on reservations.

Both Hoeven and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., are members of the panel.

“We’re working with the chairman, and we hope we can get that scheduled soon,” Bernstein said. “We’re hoping this summer, but if not, right after the August recess.”

Hearings on the problem of Indian child abuse likely would be held in Washington, D.C., “because more senators would be there, and there would be national exposure,” Bernstein said. “We see the issue right now in our state, but this is an issue in other states, as well.”

Uncertainty over jurisdiction appears to be part of the problem, said Bernstein, who is Hoeven’s point man on Indian issues, and the senator pressed that in talks earlier this year with the directors of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

At Spirit Lake, “We’ve called for everybody to sit at the table so there are no gaps,” he said. That would include tribal officials, the BIA, the state Indian Affairs office and representatives of county social services.

“The BIA has corrective action plans” in place for Spirit Lake social services, he said, “and Sen. Hoeven pressed the director to implement those and follow up by sending in BIA social work teams to provide technical and oversight guidance.”

Hoeven also urged the BIA to “hire a full-time on-site social worker at Spirit Lake,” and to work up a complete financial picture regarding social services there.

Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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