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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, Published August 24 2012

Conrad: Interior says more help on the way to Spirit Lake

In response to a call for action Thursday from Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the U.S. Interior Department has dispatched additional personnel to the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation to help the tribe deal with challenges in child protection.

“They have two people who have arrived, social workers, and two law enforcement people en route today,” Conrad said after conferring by phone with the chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

He said he wasn’t sure whether the new personnel were from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or another agency within the department.

In Grand Forks on Thursday, Conrad had called Spirit Lake a “rudderless ship” where children suffer because of a lack of leadership. He said tribal leaders have failed to return calls from his office, and a member of his staff who sought to investigate the child protection situation there earlier this week was “visibly upset” by what she saw and heard.

Conrad said his office had 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 there 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.”

On Friday, Conrad said, “We’ve had a great deal of outreach in the past 24 to 48 hours.”

He said he had spoken about Spirit Lake with North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Devils Lake Mayor Dick Johnson and others, as well as high-ranking officials at Interior.

“I said (to officials at the Interior Department) I don’t want there to be any delay,” Conrad said. “I want to talk to people who can get things done right away, and I appreciate the fact they responded right away.”

He said he has not been able to speak with Spirit Lake Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton, who is away from the reservation this week, according to a spokeswoman.