Capitol Hill Addresses Native American Child Welfare - KFYRTV.COM - Bismarck, ND - News, Weather, Sports

Capitol Hill Addresses Native American Child Welfare

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Last year, the death of a 2-year-old girl on the Spirit Lake Reservation made national news. The girl's death was the result of one of many cases of child abuse on the reservation.

In 2012, the Bureau of Indian Affairs became the primary social services authority on the reservation. But instances of child abuse and professional misconduct continue to be reported. That's why the issue was brought before the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs yesterday afternoon.

A subcommittee oversight hearing in Washington, D.C. examined child protection and the justice system on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation.

Rep. Kevin Cramer says when there's an issue of danger to children, very little matters but the safety of the child.

"That child's family and community is asking for help. And as the trustee of this relationship, there's some things we can do, and there are some things we can't do. And whatever we do, we need to do it in concert and do it together," says Cramer.

Chairman Leander McDonald says the time for placing blame on the tribe has passed. And it's not the same reservation it was in 2012.

He says the tribe has a plan. And now, it needs the means to make it happen.

"Our treaty guarantees that the federal government will provide for the education, health and welfare of the children of the Spirit Lake Nation. All of these areas have been historically underfunded resulting in a lack of capacity, inadequate services and gaps in the system," says McDonald.

Rep. Tony Cardenas of California says social ills run rampant in impoverished communities and are not confined to communities of color or Indian reservations.

"Let us not forget that communities all across the United States deal with similar problems. I'm concerned, because some fringe groups are using the situation in Spirit Lake to make the case that tribes cannot manage their own affairs and that tribal communities are not fit to raise their own children," says Cardenas.

McDonald says the disparity of what is available to states in comparison to tribes is frustrating. He says the tribe needs more police officers and additional funding to hire a new caseworker.

McDonald also requested significant funding to upgrade to an electronic filing database.

He says the system and training would expedite the the process to place children in safe environments.

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