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Published August 25 2012

Forum editorial: Sharper focus on Spirit Lake

The latest chapter in the outrageous saga of Spirit Lake Nation’s children is Sen. Kent Conrad’s, D-N.D., determination to get to the bottom of the mess on the northeastern North Dakota American Indian reservation. After getting no responses to his inquiries from tribal officials, and after one of his top staffers came back from a fact-finding tour “visibly shaken” by what she saw, a federal “strike team” will be dispatched to the reservation Monday to address issues after Conrad requested such a team from the secretary of the Interior.

The senator’s action and the dispatching of the strike team follows a second scathing indictment from a federal child welfare agency that charged Spirit Lake child protection services have done little or nothing to improve conditions for children at risk. The situation “has become even worse …” said Thomas Sullivan, Denver regional administrator for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.

Recent reports concluded that children have likely been murdered (at least one case is pending) and countless others have been exposed to a mix of social pathologies ranging from physical and mental abuse to being forced to live in environments rife with alcohol and illegal drugs. Reports in the Grand Forks Herald and The Forum by journalists Chuck Haga and Patrick Springer have exposed an atmosphere of official neglect and malfeasance.

And as all this has been exposed, tribal leaders have gone into self-protection mode by allegedly threatening retaliation against tribal employees or families that speak out.

Legislative neglect

Meanwhile, the see-no-evil crowd in the North Dakota Legislature had a chance to help a few months ago but declined. A case can be made they kissed off a federal grant for home visits in Indian country because the funds were tied to the Affordable Care Act, and the majority leadership in the Legislature has quite openly made a political decision to oppose anything associated with “Obamacare.”

When confronted with the proposition that they “dropped the ball,” Republican leaders’ responses were as tragic as they were ridiculous.

“Is it our duty to go in and tell people how to live their lives, or is it for people to determine for themselves how to live?” asked House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood. Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo endorsed Delzer’s nonsense.

Do they not understand this is about children, who obviously have no choice about living their lives in life-threatening situations? If lawmakers believe they have no business telling people how to live their lives, does it follow they are OK with telling children how to lose their lives? Because that is one result of legislative inaction.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.