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Cramer remarks, PBS documentary draw eyes again to reservation

Kevin Cramer, the then North Dakota Republican candidate for the U.S. House, speaks on Sept. 5, 2012, at a debate with Democratic opponent Pam Gulleson at the Radisson Hotel in Bismarck. Cramer, who was elected and now serves in the House, is accused of saying he does not "feel safe" on reservation land since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which gave tribal courts jurisdiction to try a non-Indian suspect.

GRAND FORKS -- The Spirit Lake Nation has endured a great deal of scrutiny and harsh commentary over the past year concerning the safety of its children, and the scrutiny ramped up again following the recent furor over comments Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., allegedly made to a gathering of victim-assistance professionals, including one from Spirit Lake.

That was followed by the airing last week of a two-part, five-hour Public Broadcasting System documentary on the struggle by one Spirit Lake woman and her children to overcome sexual abuse.

Cramer said his recollection of what happened at the Bismarck meeting differed from the account provided by Melissa Merrick, victim-assistance director at Spirit Lake, on the website Last Real Indians, but he apologized for the tone of his remarks.

Merrick refused to accept the apology. The session was not recorded, but others who were present have come forward to confirm her account, including his statement that he would not "feel safe" appearing before a tribal court because of a perceived lack of due process safeguards. He also lashed out at Spirit Lake's leadership for its handling of the child abuse issue and said he'd like to "(w)ring the Tribal Council's neck and slam them against the wall."

Janelle Moos, executive director of the state Council for Abused Women's Services, which convened the March 26 meeting and invited Cramer to it, said that Merrick "really captured the essence of the conversation."

Kristi Hall-Jiran, executive director of the Grand Forks Community Violence Intervention Center, also was present and backed Merrick's account.


Merrick also challenged the PBS documentary on Robin Charbonneau, also known as Robin Poor Bear, a Spirit Lake member who struggled with alcoholism, sexual abuse and the sexual abuse of her daughter.

In a posting on her Facebook page last week, Merrick faulted PBS for what she termed inaccuracies, violations of privacy and professional standards and "denigration" of the Spirit Lake community.

But that drew a lengthy retort from Cat West, a Canadian blogger with connections to and a following at Spirit Lake, who attributes the problems there to corrupt leadership, including a tolerant attitude toward sexual predators.

"The tribe and Ms. Merrick don't see the problem as being the abuse, the child rape, or the corruption," she wrote on her Restless Spirit blog Tuesday. Rather, "they see (the problem) strictly as someone getting the information out about their child rapes and corruption."

Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton -- the target of West's sharpest criticisms -- and other Spirit Lake leaders say they don't read her blog and dismiss her allegations as unfair and ill-informed.