On June 10, 2015, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing “Addressing the Need for Victim Services in Indian Country.” We fully agree that victims of assault in Indian Country, as everywhere, need help. We disagree with what appeared to be a pre-agreed decision by the committee to give more money to tribal leaders.
There is the adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But there is also a reality that crime and corruption are never made better by giving those responsible for the crime and corruption more money.
1) One witness stated there is one rape or child sexual abuse reported every other day and another witness stated violence on his reservation is 3 times higher than in the rest of the nation and accounts for 75% of the deaths of Indian children between the ages of 12 and 20.
2) It was admitted that many people in leadership positions contribute to the abuse
Senator Hoeven appeared concerned about getting to the core of the issue, asking what “program for foster children is most effective to address their needs and get them into a safe environment.” Witnesses did not appear able to answer his question, nor other questions concerning success stories.
Senator Heitkamp, on the other hand, stated she is “horrified” to hear these things – (despite having been told about it numerous times by many sources over the last few years). A few minutes later, she admitted the stats are the same as in the 90s when she was AG. She went on to tell everyone that additional funding is the only solution. Despite the widely admitted abuse, she wants to know why these children are going into foster care at a disproportionate number.
The Senate Committee and the BIA has long been aware of documented and rampant sexual abuse of children on many reservations as well as suicide. It is appalling that, in light of well documented reports and the circumstances surrounding them, the BIA is proposing rules that will only increase risk for children, as well as infringe on personal, parental, and privacy rights of families.
The new rules strengthen the Indian Child Welfare Act and literally mandate our children to the custody of tribal leaders in Indian Country, and will not allow the best interest of the children to be even questioned. These rules will apply to all children a tribal government deems eligible, no matter whether the child has every lived on the reservation, has any connection to Indian Country, or has any significant blood quantum. If the tribal government deems the child a member, according to the BIA, that is all that is necessary.
Do the Senators on this committee support those rules? Will they question them in light of this latest hearing? Will they stop these rules from being implemented?
75% of tribal members do NOT live in Indian Country, and many have left due to the crime and corruption. Many, despite the claims of tribal leaders, are not interested in what tribal leaders deem is culturally appropriate and necessary. Federal government has not only looked the other way for years while tribal leaders claim to speak for and have jurisdiction over everyone despite the many deaths of children, but federal government has literally made the decision to protect tribal sovereignty at all costs – even at the cost of our children.
Of special concern is that ACF Regional Director Tom Sullivan was NOT asked to testify at this hearing, despite full knowledge by the committee of his reports over the last two years.
Lastly, many victims within Indian Country, knowing full well the level of corruption, do not trust to share their stories and pain with tribal government and tribal social services. We cannot help victims by mandating their source of help come from those whom they feel victimized by.
Please insist our political leaders put children ahead of the wants and demands of tribal leaders. Tribal “leaders” do NOT speak for everyone of heritage.
You can view the hearing at – http://www.indian.senate.gov/hearing/oversight-hearing-addressing-need-victim-services-indian-country (video)