Federal official: Spirit Lake kids still at risk

Grand Forks, North Dakota (AP) August 2012

A federal official who has been calling on others in state and federal government to declare a state of emergency for children on a North Dakota reservation now says little has been done to improve child protection services there.

Thomas Sullivan, regional administrator for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, wrote in a recent letter that the only real progress he has seen at the Spirit Lake Tribe’s reservation since his June report was charges filed against a man in connection with the deaths of two Spirit Lake children last year in St. Michael.

“Based on reports I have received, everything else appears to remain as it was or has become even worse for the children of Spirit Lake,” Sullivan wrote in a letter dated Aug. 14.

In his letter, Sullivan accused tribal leaders of threatening to retaliate against tribal employees or their families if they speak out, according to the Grand Forks Herald (http://bit.ly/OHnU03 ).

Sullivan sent the letter to Timothy Purdon, U.S. attorney for North Dakota; Tara Muhlhauser, director of children and family services in the state Department of Human Services; and Sue Settles, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ division of human services in Washington, D.C.

The arrest he mentioned was in the deaths of 9-year-old Destiny Jane Shaw and her 6-year-old brother, Travis Lee DuBois Jr. Valentino “Tino” James Bagola, 19, was arrested in July and charged in federal court with murder.

Sullivan asked in his letter whether the death of a 2-month-old infant last month was being reviewed.

Purdon told the newspaper that case remains under investigation by the FBI and BIA.

“These investigations can take time, but I can assure the Spirit Lake community that the U.S. attorney’s office is committed to seeing this through,” Purdon said in a statement.

Muhlhauser confirmed she had received Sullivan’s letter and said her office would respond early next week.

The tribe released a statement saying it has not received any documents from Sullivan but would investigate and act on any official report it receives.

In a lengthy written statement last week, the tribe challenged the motives of Sullivan and other whistleblowers and faulted earlier media reports as inaccurate and misleading. The statement said most of the problems with child protection programs developed before the current tribal government took office in May 2011. It said the new administration has worked with the BIA to implement reforms.