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Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published February 08 2013

Top federal officials agree to ‘town hall’ at Spirit Lake

Senior officials from the U.S. Interior Department and its Bureau of Indian Affairs have agreed to conduct a “town hall meeting” on the Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation to update members of the tribe on efforts to better protect the tribe’s children.

The meeting time and location have not been set, but it is likely to occur within the next two to three weeks, said Don Canton, a spokesman for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Hoeven called the Interior officials to his office Thursday to “urge them to exercise more transparency” in their handling of the child protection issue, Canton said.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and a senior staff member from the office of Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also participated in the meeting with Kevin K. Washburn, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for Indian affairs and other senior officials.

Members of the delegation asked for an update on measures taken to address allegations of child abuse and neglect on the reservation.

“We have pressed them not only to use every legal and administrative measure in their jurisdiction to ensure the safety of children on the Spirit Lake Reservation, but also to be transparent and forthcoming with tribal members about what they’re doing,” the delegation said in a joint statement issued Friday.

“They said they’re working to do what they can, but we’ve urged them all along to be more transparent and more forthcoming with information so the people know what they’re doing,” Canton said.

The BIA took control of child protection services at Spirit Lake on Oct. 1 after months of serious allegations by people on and off the reservation, including a series of “mandated reports” of child abuse filed by Thomas Sullivan, regional administrator of the federal Administration for Families and Children in Denver. Sullivan’s most recent reports have faulted tribal, state and federal officials for not adequately responding to situations detailed in his earlier filings.

All of those concerns “are being thoroughly investigated,” the delegation was told Thursday, Canton said. “Some are still pending. We also urged them to work closely with the U.S. attorney, and we told them they need to get out there (to the reservation) and be more accessible,” both to tribal officials and to tribal members generally.

Members of the delegation also told the Interior officials to “solicit additional information from the community bearing on the issue of child abuse and neglect,” according to the statement.

Darren Walking Eagle, chief administrative officer for the tribe, said officials there had not been advised of the planned town hall meeting but would welcome it.

“That would be wonderful, most beneficial on our end,” he said.

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