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Published September 04 2012

Forum editorial: Reaction from tribe an outrage

The reaction of Spirit Lake Nation tribal officials to revelations the tribe failed to protect children is misguided and outrageous: misguided because the goal in this sorry saga should be protecting kids, not trying to save the tribe’s bacon; outrageous because the defensive posture of the tribal chairman and other tribal officials is a purposeful distraction, not a responsible focus on the welfare of children.

Every independent examination of the abuse and neglect situation on the northeastern North Dakota reservation has confirmed children are at risk because they are in environments rife with the worst of social pathologies. The staff of a U.S. senator, a Bureau of Indian Affairs “strike team,” a clinical psychologist at the tribal health center, and a regional administrator of the federal Administration for Children and Families found appalling abuse and neglect, even leading to at least one murder of a child.

And what was the response from Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton? He attacked the messengers. He suggested he and his tribal officials are doing all they can. He blamed everyone except the tribe. He condemned anyone who charged a scandal of major proportions was unfolding. He extended criticism to media for reporting it.


First, little, if anything, was happening until law enforcement in the form of the U.S. attorney took a hard look. Later, Grand Forks Herald and Forum reporters began digging and reporting. When light was shined on the darkness of child abuse at Spirit Lake, Yankton and his people scurried for the high weeds, then came out swinging at those who would dare expose crimes against children. He rejected any suggestion of tribal misfeasance, which could easily become malfeasance.

The pressure on the tribe should not be eased. If criminality is uncovered, it should be dealt with appropriately. If Yankton and his supporters continue to shift blame rather than accept responsibility, they should be sanctioned by members of the tribe, many of whom took risks to blow the whistle, and were threatened if they continued to speak out.

This is about children. It’s not about tribal sovereignty, race or the historic wrongs visited on American Indians. Clearly, the “wrongs” these days are being visited on Spirit Lake’s children, and that is everyone’s business.

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

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