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Published June 19, 2013, 08:50 AM

Heitkamp, Hoeven want answers in child death on Spirit Lake Reservation

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's two U.S. senators are calling for quick action and more answers from authorities investigating the death of a 3-year-old girl on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's two U.S. senators are calling for quick action and more answers from authorities investigating the death of a 3-year-old girl on the Spirit Lake Reservation.

The FBI has called the death "mysterious" but hasn't released details, citing the ongoing investigation by that agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Local and federal BIA officials also have not disclosed any details of the probe.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., told the Grand Forks Herald that she is "deeply concerned" that another child might have fallen victim to a child protection system on the reservation that she believes is clearly broken.

The effectiveness of the system has been the subject of debate for more than a year. The BIA took over the system last October following criticism that the tribe had failed to protect vulnerable children such as those in foster care.

"Somehow, with all this attention, all this ballyhoo, we still lost another child," Heitkamp said. "Tell me how did that happen? I'm beside myself."

Ryan Bernstein, chief of staff for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the death is "another serious and sad event" that demands quick action by tribal and federal authorities.

"This is a terrible tragedy," Bernstein said. "We need to find a way to stop this from happening."

Hoeven spokesman Don Canton said the senator's office has contacted BIA and Interior Department officials who took part in discussions about Spirit Lake last year.

"We want to arrange another meeting with them," Canton said. "One of the things we want to ask is why there isn't more transparency."

Heitkamp said that federal, state and tribal agencies and leaders "all have to take responsibility that a child died, once again, after we all said this couldn't happen again.

"I am really tired of hearing that this is about maintaining a veil of silence on criminal investigations when we have children at risk," she said.

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