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Published July 11, 2012, 07:13 PM

Spirit Lake Investigates 2-month-old Girl's Death

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — The Spirit Lake Sioux chairman says the tribe is investigating the death of a 2-month-old girl whose mother had been suspected of drug abuse and child neglect, but he also says the tribe is being unfairly singled out for alleged failures to protect endangered children on the North Dakota reservation.

By: Associated Press,

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. (AP) — The Spirit Lake Sioux chairman says the tribe is investigating the death of a 2-month-old girl whose mother had been suspected of drug abuse and child neglect, but he also says the tribe is being unfairly singled out for alleged failures to protect endangered children on the North Dakota reservation.

"Why is it one little place in the prairie is the center of national attention?" Roger Yankton told Forum Communications (http://bit.ly/Nrwpcz ).

A Bureau of Indian Affairs review earlier this year detailed problems in tribal social services programs. Thomas Sullivan, regional administrator in Denver for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, last month called for suspending all state and federal funding to the tribe until it put qualified officials in place to run programs to ensure children are not subjected to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Sullivan said the 2-month-old girl died at her mother's home in St. Michael after repeated reports of suspected child neglect were filed with Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services, Benson County Social Services and law enforcement agencies.

Molly McDonald, a former tribal court judge, said tribal social services officials did not act because the mother is not an enrolled member of the tribe, and Benson County Social Services took no action because the family lived on the reservation.

"These agencies (were) passing the buck back and forth," McDonald said.

Yankton said officials are working to clarify jurisdiction. U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon said his office is looking into the 2-month-old's death, and BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said that agency is doing the same. Autopsy results are not yet available.

Yankton has cited staff turnover, high caseloads and inadequate federal funding for problems. He said his administration has responded to criticisms.

"We started a year ago to improve the quality of those services, but it takes time to review those things," he said.

Yankton said children on the reservation are at no greater risk than children in other places facing similar social and economic challenges.

"The social fabric of this (tribal) nation has been stretched so thin," he said, referring to years of poverty, high unemployment, poor housing and disruption caused by the flooding of nearby Devils Lake. "As a community we've got to come together."


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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