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Patrick Springer, Published September 17 2012

ND delegation praises BIA decision

FARGO – Officials are preparing for a handover of social services programs from Spirit Lake Tribe to the Bureau of Indian Affairs that will take place on Oct. 1.

An Interior Department assistant secretary issued a statement Monday saying the tribe had asked the federal government to assume control of its social services programs, which have been targeted for improvement for more than a year.

“The decision allowing the BIA to take back the Spirit Lake Tribe’s contracted social services program was made after careful consideration of what was best for all concerned, particularly with regard to the health and safety of their children,” said Donald “Del” Laverdure, acting assistant secretary of the interior for Indian affairs.

North Dakota’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement Monday expressing approval of the handover, the latest development in months of efforts to improve social services and child protection at Spirit Lake.

“We are encouraged by the BIA’s decision to assume administration of the tribe’s social service programs until Spirit Lake can demonstrate, in an open and transparent way, that tribal government is capable of effectively protecting vulnerable children.

“Every child is entitled to live in a home that is unthreatening and safe, and every family deserves to know its child is safe and secure when it proves necessary to rely on the protection of social service authorities,” the congressional delegation stated.

A BIA spokeswoman said the specifics of the transition still are being worked out with the tribe in preparation for the handover on Oct. 1. She could not say whether new management or staff would be brought in to run child protection and social services programs.

“I don’t have any details,” Nedra Darling, a BIA spokeswoman, said Monday. “We’re still fact-finding.”

The decision for the BIA to assume control of social services came after a review team met last week to determine the tribe’s progress in bringing its programs into compliance.

Earlier, on Aug. 24, following prodding from Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Laverdure announced that he was sending a “strike team” to Spirit Lake to evaluate the tribe’s efforts to improve the program.

The BIA funds the programs, and others, under contract with the tribe and provides oversight from its Great Plains Region offices in Aberdeen, S.D., and Washington.

The Spirit Lake Tribe took over the administration of its social services from the BIA in 2001.

Roger Yankton, chairman of the Spirit Lake Tribe, and other members of the tribal council were not available Monday for comment on the transition.

The congressional delegation, also including Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., have asked the BIA to keep them up to date on developments.

“We have asked BIA Director Mike Black to keep us apprised of the progress of their work at the reservation, and hope that this marks the beginning of genuine reform that will help to create a safer, more secure environment for the children and families of Spirit Lake,” the delegation said in the joint statement.

Cheryl Good Iron, a member of the tribe who has criticized the Yankton administration, said she believes transfer of authority for social services is a good sign.

“I would rather see the BIA run it, but they have to have more control,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. I can see why they (Spirit Lake Tribe) wanted to dump it in someone’s lap.”

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