Hoeven Presses Indian Affairs Secretary on Child Safety

WASHINGTON – At a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee this week, Senator John Hoeven pressed Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn to do everything in the agency’s power to get to the bottom the recent death of an infant on Spirit Lake reservation.

Senator Hoeven asked Washburn about a recently reported infant death at the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation currently being investigated by the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Washburn told Hoeven that the BIA is working closely with the Department of Justice and doing everything possible to ensure child safety on the reservation.

“Given recent history, the death of an infant on the reservation is deeply concerning,” Hoeven said. “The FBI and BIA need to get to the facts so that we can determine exactly what happened and continue to do all we can to prevent such tragic incidents in the future.”

Hoeven also urged Washburn to support legislation he sponsored to help improve child safety in Indian Country.

“Our bill, the Native American Children’s Safety Act, is a step toward providing Spirit Lake children with more protections. I look forward to working with Assistant Secretary Washburn to pass this important legislation, as well as other steps necessary to ensure that children are protected,” said Hoeven.

Washburn agreed to work with Hoeven on the legislation which implements protections for Native American children placed by tribal courts into the tribal foster care system, including background checks for all adults living in a potential foster home. Unlike state foster care system in North Dakota, Native American tribes currently do not have uniform minimum procedures and guidelines when a Native American child is placed in foster care under the direction of a tribal court. The bill is sponsored by Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and endorsed by the Spirit Lake Nation.

Hoeven said the legislation is another step to help protect children on the reservation, but more needs to be done to ensure children are safe. Hoeven pressed the BIA to work with all the necessary stakeholders to protect children on reservations.