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Congressional hearing set for Spirit Lake child welfare cases

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JAMESTOWN — A Woodworth woman will tell a congressional subcommittee this month about her experiences working with at-risk children on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation.

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Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., announced Tuesday that the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs would hold an oversight hearing on child protection and the justice system on the Spirit Lake Reservation. Betty Jo Krenz of Woodworth is expected to testify at the June 24 hearing.

Krenz worked previously as a case manager for Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services. She was terminated in June 2011 after bringing to light problems of child abuse on the reservation. She has advocated for Native American children since.

“I see this as the first real effort from the federal government to get to the problems at Spirit Lake,” she said.

A media release from the Natural Resources Committee said the hearing would “examine the current status of child welfare and protection services on the reservation that is publicly unknown because relevant federal and tribal agencies lack transparency.”

Cramer called the current situation unacceptable.

“The recurring deaths and child abuse cases on Spirit Lake are unacceptable,” he said. “Clearly the current system is failing our children. The goal of this hearing is to shine a light on the situation and promote a dialogue about solutions between local, state, tribal and federal government.”

There have been two child deaths in the past year at Spirit Lake. Laurynn Whiteshield, 3, was killed June 12, 2013. Hope Whiteshield, step-grandmother of the child, pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The death of an infant April 25 remains under investigation by the FBI.

Krenz said she looked forward to giving voice to the children involved in the process.

“This is the first time kids will be heard,” she said. “They will hear from judges and people working with the kids.”

The hearing could lead to congressional action concerning child welfare and justice system on the reservation, according to the committee release.

The hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. EDT June 24 at 1334 Hearing Room of the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

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