In October, CNN did a segment called “Sexual abuse rampant on Indian Reservation.” Questions were raised as to how and why our federal government could be turning its back on children on reservations across the country. Tom Sullivan, Regional Administrator for the federal ACF, had been telling his superiors about the horrific handling of children for over a year. We now have documents between Tom Sullivan and his superiors.
Had the ACF listened to him and done its job, toddler Lauryn Whiteshield would be alive right now.
Our children have been viewed as collateral damage in DC’s ongoing political games for far too long.
An email from Tom Sullivan to his superiors is below. More documents to follow.
Thursday morning, Mr. Kenneth Martin, senior aide to Senator Cantwell, Chair of the Indian Affairs Committee, made several disparaging remarks concerning ACF Regional Administrator, Thomas Sullivan and suggested a hearing would reveal lies.
What Mr. Sullivan had been pointing out in a series of mandated reports is that the ACF, BIA, FBI and US attorney have not been doing their jobs on the Spirit Lake Reservation. In fact, what many Spirit Lake tribal members have been saying is that our federal government is allowing tragedy to occur despite the pleas of people living there.
We want that hearing Mr. Martin suggested. We need our government to investigate Mr. Sullivan’s claims – and we need our government to investigate similar situations on other reservations.
Read the emails:
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: “Elizabeth Morris”
Date: Nov 22, 2013 10:16 AM
Subject: Re: Mr. Tom Sullivan’s email concerning Spirit Lake
To: “Martin, Kenneth (Indian Affairs)”
Cc: “Thompson, Mariah (Indian Affairs)”
Thank you for your note, Mr. Martin. I appreciate it.I hope you will also concede at some point that we are not “cherry picking.” It is time to admit the depth of what is happening on many reservations. No more playing politics with the lives of a vulnerable community – let alone vulnerable children.
My sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews – at the very least – are worth much more than that, (if I can speak personally. It is after all, for personal reasons that my husband and I began this work in the first place.)
But I will not stop with just our extended family. Too many people have come asking for help.
We insist that the facts Mr. Sullivan and others have presented be acted upon.
Thank you again for your response.
On Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 8:31 AM, Martin, Kenneth (Indian Affairs)
Thank you for the email. I apologize as I must have misspoke, as I have no information on the issues surrounding Mr. Sullivan and did not intend to insinuate otherwise. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify.
From: Elizabeth Morris [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Thursday, November 21, 2013 8:15 PM
To: Thompson, Mariah (Indian Affairs); Martin, Kenneth (Indian Affairs)
Subject: Mr. Tom Sullivan’s email concerning Spirit Lake
Ms. Thompson and Mr. Martin
Shortly after our conversation concerning Mr. Tom Sullivan of the ACF, I received this email. It appears to address some of the very issues we had discussed.
Mr. Martin, you had suggested that a hearing would prove Mr. Sullivan had lied. I wonder if it might come to that.
I would appreciate your comments concerning the below. Thanks –
Begin forwarded message:
From: “Sullivan, Thomas (ACF)”
Date: November 21, 2013 1:45:05 PM EST
To: “Mcmullen, Marrianne (ACF)”
Cc: “Chang, Joo Yeun (ACF)”
Subject: Spirit Lake
In the early evening of October 21, 2013, CNN broadcast a detailed and substantive report entitled “Sex Abuse Rampant on Indian Reservation” about the epidemic of child sexual abuse on the Spirit Lake Reservation. That broadcast ran a little more than 6 months after former Acting Assistant Secretary Sheldon’s April 15, 2013 letter to me prohibiting me, in my official capacity as Denver Regional Administrator for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), from filing any more Mandated Reports about child sexual abuse at Spirit Lake. Since that policy applied only to me, I believed it was retaliatory and discriminatory.
Your refusal to announce this new policy with any of the other 1500 ACF employees across this country is a clear signal to me that I have been singled out for this retaliatory and discriminatory action which, because of your silence, continues to this very day.
Your continuing exclusion of me from any participation in efforts to address the problems at Spirit Lake is further evidence of retaliation and discrimination.
Mr. Sheldon’s letter to me was accompanied by letters to the BIA’s Ms. Settles and US Attorney Purdon. Unlike his letter to me, his letters to them were full of high praise for their efforts in addressing the epidemic of child sexual abuse at Spirit Lake..
Since I had no contact with Mr. Sheldon after October 11, 2012 and since at that time he had made clear his displeasure with my Mandated Reports, and since I had responded to that displeasure with extensive factual documentation of conditions at Spirit Lake, I was surprised by his letter to me. His unqualified endorsement of the efforts of Ms. Settles and Mr. Purdon was and still is shocking, lacking, as it did, any factual basis for the high praise heaped on them. This contrasted sharply with the factual detail provided in my Mandated Reports.
Believing that Mr. Sheldon must have had some factual basis for the position detailed in his letters to Ms. Settles and Mr. Purdon, I have asked twice for those facts. None have been provided. My emails have been ignored by both you and Mr. Sheldon. I can only presume there are no facts available to justify your position.
My sources have been complaining to Tribal, state and federal agency leadership for more than five years about conditions at Spirit Lake and the maltreatment of children there. Their complaints have been ignored and continue to be ignored. Their documentation unread and then shredded.
I have filed 13 Mandated Reports. All have been ignored or characterized as rumors or exaggerations by Tribal, state, BIA, DOJ as well as other federal agencies. Facts and truth mean little to those charged with defending both the status quo at Spirit Lake and themselves. More importantly the safety of abused American Indian children at Spirit Lake appears to have meant even less. As a result of their misleading puffery more than 100 children remain in the full time care and custody of sexual predators available to be raped daily.
On September 23, 2013, I sent an email to Mr. Sheldon concerning the situation with a young suicidal boy who had fled his foster home. You responded that “Marilyn Kennerson is working with the BIA and tribe to make sure all appropriate measures are being taken to assure this child’s safety.” My sources inform me that nothing has changed for this young boy.
Claims have been made that every allegation in my Mandated Reports have been investigated. Many of my sources say otherwise because they have not been interviewed by anyone in law enforcement. This claim becomes even harder to believe when the US Attorney for North Dakota has indicted, sought a plea deal or prosecuted only one case of child sexual abuse originating on the Spirit Lake Reservation in the last 25 months. I have been told by experienced child protection workers from Spirit Lake that in a typical year there are, on average, 50 cases of child sexual abuse reported, investigated, confirmed and referred for prosecution. Why has the US Attorney prosecuted only one case of child sexual abuse from Spirit Lake in the last 25 months, a case where the actual sexual abuse occurred between 2007 – 2009. Just learned the US Attorney for North Dakota has filed one more charge of child sexual abuse in the last few days, doubling his numbers for the prior 24 months.
Law enforcement at every level at Spirit Lake, including the FBI, BIA, Tribal police and the US Attorney have allowed the Tribal Council to determine which criminal activities will be investigated and prosecuted. For confirmation of this fact please review the last page of the Spirit Lake Tribal Council Meeting Minutes for September 27, 2013, attached for your convenience.
The apparent unwillingness of government at any level to protect the children at Spirit Lake from abuse creates the impression there is a large, unannounced experiment being conducted at Spirit Lake to determine what harm, if any, would be done to abused children who are returned to the care of either their abusive biological parents or abusive foster parents before these parents have completed their court-ordered rehabilitation therapy. But in order for such an experiment to be conducted there would have to be a rigorous research design, with control groups, opportunities for informed consent and extensive data collection. No such safeguards are apparent but children continue to be placed with abusive adults. How strange, all we have is abused children being returned to abusive parents with none of the other elements required for a legitimate research project. Why is such experimentation on these children being tolerated?
Certainly, no one can claim the hypothesis that abused children can be returned to their abusive homes without harm to those children has been proven. Who is responsible for attempting to prove it at Spirit Lake?
A perfect example of this experimentation and the Tribal Council’s control of criminal investigation and prosecution at Spirit Lake is the Tribal Court order from 5 – 6 months ago returning to a biological mother her children even though she has been charged with and convicted in Tribal Court of sexual abuse of her children – she was discovered by police in bed having sex with a male friend while all her children, one of them totally naked, were in the same bed.
The biological mom lives with her children’s grandfather. The children were recently evaluated at the Red River Advocacy Center (RRAC) and it was determined that two of the girls, ages 6 and 7, were being sexually abused by that very same grandfather. The recommendation of the RRAC was that these children were “not to be left alone with the grandfather”. There is a young teenage son in this family who attempted suicide three times before his 14th birthday. The grandfather who has never been charged or prosecuted for his criminal sexual assaults on his granddaughters is the uncle of a Tribal Council member. There is no indication that anyone from law enforcement has launched an investigation of the grandfather’s alleged sexual abuse. It is likely that Council Member would oppose any Council Motion to refer this situation for criminal investigation of his uncle.
The father of these children has petitioned Tribal Court to assume custody. I understand his petitions have been routinely dismissed even though he is ready, able and willing to assume responsibility for his children, caring for them in a safe home. The mother of these children is an enrolled Tribal member. Their father is not.
Conducting an assessment at this point after more than five years of complaints from my sources and after my 13 Mandated Reports seems to simply delay the desperately needed corrective action to get those 100 children to safety. As one of my sources recently wrote, “…when will the government realize we are serious about this….kids are being raped and nobody in law enforcement gives a damn”.
Natalie Stites, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and former Project Coordinator in the Attorney General’s office on the Rosebud Reservation writing in LastRealIndians.com in December, 2011 speaks words that need to be considered here, “There are thousands of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota children experiencing abuse and neglect….. Over a third of women raped today were sexually assaulted as children. Sadly all too often abused and neglected children become perpetrators themselves as adolescents and as adults……..There are many complex reasons for the conditions facing the children today: lack of compassion, colonization, epigenetics, grief, violence, the feminization of poverty, the school-to-prison pipeline, organized sexual abuse, unemployment, mental illness, addiction, racism, cultural oppression. These are the roots of our current situation…………….
However, try explaining this to the 5 year old boy who hasn’t eaten a meal in two days, or a beaten 8 year old girl caring for an infant and a toddler like she’s the parent, or a 15 year old youth who faces and eventually joins his addicted parents and the drunken strangers they bring home to party every night. Try explaining to these children why family members, social workers, policy makers, police, courts, schools, health care providers cannot protect them, even after their own parents fail them, or abandon them, or hurt them. Who takes responsibility for this? We must.”
When will we take responsibility?
After your assessment? How long will that take?
How many more months will the Tribe allow this experimentation with their children to continue?
Have a great Thanksgiving.
Thomas F. Sullivan
Regional Administrator, ACF, Denver
From: Mcmullen, Marrianne (ACF)
Sent: Friday, November 01, 2013 6:22 AM
To: Sullivan, Thomas (ACF)
Cc: Chang, Joo Yeun (ACF/ACYF) (ACF); McCauley, Mike (ACF)
Subject: Spirit Lake
Good morning Tom: Attached and below is a memo about ACF’s work on Spirit Lake moving forward.
Tom, as a courtesy based on your expressed interest in matters at Spirit Lake, I wanted to let you know that Children’s Bureau has been actively working with the Spirit Lake tribe on improving their child protection services.
Currently, the National Resource Center for Child Protective Services, funded by CB, is conducting an assessment of Spirit Lake social services. As you may know, numerous assessments have been started over the past 18 months, but leadership changes have stalled and ultimately stopped these processes. Now, however, the new Tribal chair and the new social services director are moving forward with the assessment. Once this assessment is complete, it will provide a roadmap for the policies, practices, procedures and staffing levels that the Tribe needs to establish a successful agency. The Children’s Bureau will work hand-in-hand with the Tribe to follow that map and to ensure that all available resources are brought to bear for the Tribe to be successful in better protecting its children.
I want to be clear with you that the Children’s Bureau is leading this effort for ACF and will manage work with both the Tribal leadership and the Tribal social services staff moving forward. The Children’s Bureau will also be the principal liaison with the state of North Dakota, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Dept. of Justice to address child protective issues at Spirit Lake.
As the Immediate Office of the Assistant Secretary, the Children’s Bureau, and the Administration for Native Americans have worked to address concerns at Spirit Lake over the past year, it has become clear that Region 8 IORA involvement has damaged some of the most critical relationships needed for achieving progress for the children and families of Spirit Lake. It is our full intention to rebuild these relationships and move forward in a collegial and productive direction.
Tom, I know you share ACF’s goal of establishing a strong social service system at Spirit Lake that can act quickly and effectively to protect children who may be in danger. It is my expectation that you will refer all future inquiries to the Department concerning Spirit Lake to the Children’s Bureau and respect the Bureau’s role in leading and coordinating the Department’s efforts to achieve the goal of protecting Spirit Lake’s children.
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