Crisis at Spirit Lake transcends partisanshipWhen it comes to improving child protection on the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation, this much is clear: Partisanship doesn’t help.
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
When it comes to improving child protection on the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation, this much is clear:
Partisanship doesn’t help.
It’s an understandable reflex for lawmakers, whose lives in the Legislature are consumed by political alliances and quarrels.
But it may not add much to North Dakotans’ understanding of the child-protection crisis, whose origins and timeline cross years or maybe decades of legislative and executive party lines.
Furthermore, partisan shots serve only to hurt the targeted party and make its members defensive. That pushes any kind of broad and bipartisan solution to the crisis — the only kind of solution that will work — even further out of reach.
So, lawmakers should think twice before pointing fingers across the aisle.
Unless, of course, their partisan claims have real insight to offer.
The recent effort to pin the Spirit Lake crisis in part on Republicans’ dislike for the Affordable Care Act doesn’t qualify.
“A refusal by the 2011 North Dakota Legislature to advance anything linked to ‘Obamacare’ blocked a federally funded program that could have aided child protection on the Spirit Lake Sioux reservation, according to two House Democrats and the head of a state group working to end child abuse,” Herald staff writer Chuck Haga reported.
The program would have provided “home visitations by nurses, social workers and other trained professionals in Benson and Rolette counties, home respectively to the Spirit Lake Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa reservations,” Haga reported.
But a North Dakota House subcommittee took out the money, likely in part because of the program’s connection to President Barack Obama’s health care reform.
While the Democrats’ recounting of events may be true, it’s also petty — petty in the sense that it tries to blame Republicans for outcomes that (a) the program might not have prevented, and (b) weren’t part of the House debate in the first place.
Let’s take those one at a time. The situation at Spirit Lake has defied all efforts at solution — and not just for months, but for years.
Reform-minded people on the reservation have tried. The FBI has tried. The U.S. attorney for North Dakota has tried. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has tried.
North Dakota’s congressional delegation has tried, too. But nothing seems to have worked; and as a result, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., recently asked the secretary of the interior himself to intervene.
The secretary is a Cabinet officer, one step below the president.
Can we say with confidence that a single low-level program would have made a difference?
Considering the delays, inefficiencies and jurisdictional disputes that so often mark such programs, can we even say that the home visits would have taken place?
Then there’s the fact that the outside world didn’t know until April how dire the situation at Spirit Lake was.
That’s when the news broke of a senior psychologist’s declaration that “social services administered by Spirit Lake Nation are mired in mismanagement that endangers abused and neglected children,” as a Forum Communications story reported.
Last but not least, there’s the fact that last year, GOP lawmakers had a list of reasons to reject the program, including suspicion that the federal funding would dry up and leave the state holding the bag. Remember, the fact of the evolving crisis at Spirit Lake at the time wasn’t yet known.
Which brings us back to April, when the crisis did become known via the Forum Communications story.
It’s no accident that the press played that role. The press often plays such a role, and has throughout American history — but seldom on Indian reservations.
Because free-press guarantees aren’t enforced on reservations with the vigor that they are elsewhere in America.
Now there’s a needed reform, one that probably has to be in place before any others can be expected to work.
And it’s one that’ll take all Americans working shoulder to shoulder and side by side to bring about.