Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published February 22 2013
Spirit Lake sets 'town hall meeting' for Wednesday, but questions linger how public it will beA meeting of senior Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and leaders of
the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe to assess BIA progress in dealing with
child protection issues on the reservation has been scheduled for
Wednesday, but it is not clear how public that discussion will be.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and the two other members of the state’s
congressional delegation had announced on Feb. 8 that top BIA and
Interior Department officials had agreed to conduct a “town hall
meeting” at Spirit Lake to update members of the tribe on efforts to
better protect the tribe’s children and to give tribal members a
chance to voice concerns.
Hoeven had called the officials to his office to “urge them to
exercise more transparency” in their handling of the issue, spokesman
Don Canton said two weeks ago.
Canton said today that the meeting has been set for 1 p.m. Wednesday
at the Spirit Lake Casino and Resort near Fort Totten, N.D., but that
the BIA told Hoeven’s office “the BIA left it to the Tribal Council to
decide” if it is to be an open meeting.
“That’s not what we wanted,” Canton said.
He said that Hoeven, after learning about the uncertainty concerning
the nature of the meeting, spoke with Kevin Washburn, Interior’s
assistant secretary for Indian affairs, “and pushed to have the
Washburn, Interior’s oversight official responsible for the BIA, “said
he will work with the tribe to do that, and he’s going to get back to
Hoeven “has been pushing them for months to be transparent and let the
people of Spirit Lake know what they’re doing,” Canton said. “”They
agreed to hold a public meeting to go through the progress they’re
making and also to gather input and give community members and tribal
officials an opportunity to express their concerns.”
Tribal leaders did not immediately respond to phone or email messages
seeking comment today.
Canton said he was not sure who would participate in the meeting, but
he said it would include senior BIA officials, representatives from
the congressional offices and tribal leaders, and would be led by
Larry Roberts, the deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs at
the Interior Department.
Hoeven, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.,
who joined Hoeven in his Feb. 8 call for a “town hall meeting” at
Spirit Lake, will be in session in Washington next week and unable to
attend, “but we’ll definitely have someone from our office there,”
He said BIA Director Mike Black, who was part of a “strike team” sent
by the bureau to assess the child protection system at Spirit Lake
last fall, will not be there because he is scheduled to testify before
The BIA took over child protection services on the reservation on
Oct. 1 and has brought in social workers and other personnel to try to
upgrade the system.