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Spirit Lake Nation: A Follow-Up Report On Child Abuse
One Month Later
It has been a month since I first wrote about the atrocities happening on an Indian reservation in North Central North Dakota. The rage I felt then has not subsided, but rather transformed into a slow, deliberate simmering process, which continues to feed my passion for change in this country.
There are so many wrongs in this country that at times it seems overwhelming. At times the temptation to just throw up my hands and walk away is indeed strong. Where do we even start? How can we expect to effect change when so much is vile and despicable? I fill with frustration and I scream at the moon, knowing it does no good to do so, and yet also knowing it is necessary.
Someone needs to scream! When children are being abused and the authorities charged with their care are not acting, then someone needs to scream. Do not think for a second that this is a problem limited to the Spirit Lake Nation of North Dakota. Child abuse is a nationwide problem. Every day in this country, four children die because of abuse. To my way of thinking that is four too many, and I cannot remain silent.
I promised a follow-up report and here it is! I am encouraged by what is happening this last week of August, 2012. Certainly I am more encouraged than I was a month ago, because it appears that someone is listening to our collective voice, and that actions will be taken that can only improve the situation in North Dakota.
Before I go any further, let me give you a quick summary of the problem in case you missed my earlier article.
This story did not begin on May 21, 2011, when the bodies of Destiny (age nine) and Travis (age six) DuBois were found. Their murders were only the catalyst that lit the fire of a much bigger story, a story of child abuse that has run un-impeded for quite some time now at Spirit Lake.
For months social workers and even government officials had called out for help, hoping that someone would listen to their stories of neglect and abuse of children, and of incompetency and dictatorial leadership in the Tribe. Their pleas for assistance largely fell on deaf ears, but still they risked retribution from the Tribe and continued to tell their story.
Child case worker Betty Jo Krenz, despite threats to her life, fought tooth and nail to bring this story to the light of public awareness. A solitary figure known only as Cat filled the internet with stories so horrendous as to seem unbelievable, and yet they were true. Tribal psychologist Dr. Tillus was transferred after sending a letter of concern about family and child safety on the Reservation, but his voice could not be quieted. Thomas Sullivan, regional administrator for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, called for a state of emergency at Spirit Lake. Newspapers like the Grand Forks Herald and The Forum in Fargo covered the story intensely for months, refusing to let it die, and continually pushed tribal, state and federal authorities for answers to the problem.
Finally, on July 23, 2012, fourteen months after the murders of the DuBois children, U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon announced the apprehension and arrest of one Valentino James Bagola in connection with the murders. His tentative trial date is September 24, 2012.
The community of Spirit Lake hoped that the nightmare would finally disappear. It did not! Still concerns were voiced over continual child abuse on the Reservation, and those who did speak out were again threatened by Tribal authorizes. Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton continued to express concern and vowed to make necessary changes, but change, it seems, is very slow in coming to Spirit Lake.
For Background Information
- Spirit Lake: A True Story of Injustice
On the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota, children are being abused and raped, and in some cases murdered. Those who should be protecting them are not!
The Spirit Lake Video
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
As reported by the Grand Forks Herald, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad said he would call on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and ask for assistance in the Spirit Lake matter. Conrad states that Spirit Lake “seems like a rudderless ship” lacking any cohesive or effective leadership in dealing with child protection. He also stated that calls from his office to the Reservation leadership have gone unanswered, and that a staff member recently returned from the Reservation noticeably upset over the conditions at Spirit Lake.
Conrad also stated that his office has been working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, those responsible for overseeing social services, but that he feels that intervention by the Secretary of the Interior is now necessary. He is calling for a team of specialists comprised of social workers, leadership experts and possibly law enforcement personnel, to enter the Reservation and spearhead necessary changes.
Republican Senator John Hoeven recently stated that his office is now in contact with the BIA and is urging them to take over the social services programs run by the Spirit Lake Tribe.
Senator Conrad, who will soon retire from the U.S. Senate, stated that one of the greatest frustrations he has had in 26 years in the Senate has been “trying to make progress” in the areas of chronic social issues, such as poverty, suicide, crime and abuse of children, and these problems are now clearly focused on Spirit Lake. Conrad states that he believes there is a total failure of leadership at Spirit Lake.
It should be noted that Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton has been unavailable for comment since these issues surfaced earlier this year, and currently, according to a Tribal spokesperson, Yankton is out of town.
- National Child Abuse Statistics | Childhelp
Statistics on child abuse and neglect, consequences of child abuse and criminal behavior and substance abuse related to child abuse.
A QUESTION OF JURISDICTION???
Yes, Spirit Lake Nation is an autonomous nation with its own government and police force. Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple. Felony crimes are handled and investigated by the FBI. Social services are funded by the BIA. Toss in the Department of the Interior and the Indian Health Service and there are quite a few responsible parties staggering over each other during any given day.
It would be lovely if the Tribe could handle their own matters, and in many tribes across the country that seems to be the case. Unfortunately, there are also a great many tribes, Spirit Lake being one of them, that seem to be “rudderless ships” where basic human rights are ignored.
The question then becomes: should an autonomous nation be interfered with if they cannot protect the innocent? The answer must be a resounding YES! This is a matter of human rights and that must always trump jurisdictional boundaries. The United States has a rich history of entering the fray in foreign countries when human rights are being ignored and trampled on. Why should it be any different within the boundaries of the United States?
I do not care about jurisdictional boundaries; I care only for children who cannot defend themselves. What empathetic human being would not feel that way? Oh, wait, there is at least one! Chairman Yankton, are you available to comment yet? Does your busy schedule allow you to make a statement about dead and abused children? Would it be possible for you to address these concerns publicly, or are you too busy operating the Tribal casino to be bothered with child neglect and abuse?
Yes, the United States government needs to act, and hopefully sooner rather than later. My main concern at this point is that the wheels of government turn incredibly slowly, and simply because a United State Senator vows to pick up the fight does not mean the fight will net results in the next few days, or weeks, or even months. How many more deaths will have to occur before someone takes immediate action?
To Betty Jo Krenz, I say thank you! To Cat, whoever you are, I say thank you! To Dr. Tillus, I say thank you! To Director Sullivan, I say thank you! To those of you who work with these kids daily but, because of fear of reprisals, must stay silent, I say thank you for the job you have done. To the staff of the Grand Forks Herald and The Forum, I say thank you for not allowing this story to lose momentum.
Never tell me that one person cannot make a difference. I refuse to believe it! The history of mankind is filled with stories of individuals who ignored the odds and simply decided that change must happen, and that they would be the instrument of that change.
One person can stand up to injustice. This story is overflowing with people who, despite threats and reprimands, have refused to ignore the trampling of basic human rights of children. It takes one person, and then another, and another, until that one voice is many, and change then happens.
How many more children have to die? What would be an acceptable number while the wheels of justice slowly turn? If we could solve this problem in a month, but two more children die, is that acceptable? How about six months but the loss of five more children? Is that acceptable?
Chairman Yankton, you need to do the only honorable thing and step down from your position of leadership. You have proven yourself to be an ineffectual leader, and worse yet you have proven to be a selfish dictator who has no concern for the people whose care you were entrusted with. Bullies lose their power when someone stands up to them and Chairman Yankton, you now have opposition, and it is growing daily. The legacy of great Sioux leadership ended when you took office but it can be, and will be, regained when you leave.
How many more children have to die? What would be an acceptable number?
There is only one acceptable answer to those questions….zero!
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)