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Meth blamed for increase in child abuse on reservations

Indianz.Com Listening Lounge
Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on S.1899, the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act.
Testimony | Webcast
Introduction - 6:56 - 1.6MB

Panel 1
Testimony - 13:40 - 3.1MB | Q&A - 20:05 - 4.6MB
Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior

Deputy Director, Indian Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, Federal Bureau of Investigations

Panel 2
Testimony - 20:37 - 4.7MB | Q&A - 13:13 - 3.0MB
Chairman, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon

Executive Director, National Indian Child Welfare Association

Director, Center for Justice Studies, Morehead State University in Kentucky
The methamphetamine epidemic in Indian Country has contributed to an increase in child abuse cases, tribal and federal officials said on Wednesday.

At a hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, witnesses cited a rise in the number of child abuse, neglect and endangerment cases on reservations. Although limited data exists, they attributed the problem to meth, a drug that is ravaging tribal communities across the nation.

"Generally speaking, there is a definite increase," testified Robert McSwain, the deputy director of the Indian Health Service.

In addition to child abuse cases, Ron Suppah, the chairman of the Confederated Warm Springs Tribes of Oregon, said the number of youth suicides among tribes in his state has increased. From 2002 to 2005, the suicide rate increased by 50 percent on his reservation, he told the committee.

"A lot of it," he said, "is because of the meth epidemic."

Meth is a nationwide problem but the drug, often manufactured in Mexico but also produced in labs in reservations, has hit tribes especially hard. Inadequate funding, limited law enforcement and jurisdictional issues pose special concerns usually not seen elsewhere in the U.S.

"It's my view that we do not have enough adequate resource in law enforcement and health services to treat the victims of not only child abuse but the epidemic of meth and other dangerous substances in Indian Country," said Pat Ragsdale, the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"I know that from personal experience," he said, as a former law enforcement official for his tribe, the Cherokee Nation, a tribe that has broken up meth drug rings on its lands in northeastern Oklahoma.

James Burrus, an assistant director with the FBI's criminal division, said unemployment, poverty and despair are known to contribute to child abuse. But Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the committee, said there's another explanation for the rise in abuse cases.

"Those problems, tragically, have been with Indian Country for a long time but now we're seeing another increase in child abuse cases," McCain observed. "So it seems to me there's an added factor there and that may be methamphetamine."

Citing the recent New York Times articles on drug trafficking, McCain said meth affects communities nationwide but impacts tribes more directly. "The burden is falling disproportionately on Indian reservations," he said.

McCain has scheduled a hearing on April 5 to address meth use in Indian Country. Tribes have already placed the issue at the top of their agenda.

"Meth is killing our children, affecting our cultures and ravaging our communities," Joe Garcia, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, said last month.

Yesterday's hearing was called to hear testimony on S.1899, the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act. Introduced on October 20, 2005, the bill would reauthorize funds for child sexual abuse prevention and treatment grants, identify the scope of child abuse and family violence in Indian Country through annual data collections and to share incidents of child abuse among law enforcement agencies.

The two tribal representatives at the hearing supported the goals of the legislation. Terry Cross, the executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, said tribes need more funding for child protection services.

"The fact that there are children's trust funds for child abuse prevention in every state in this nation but not one of them available to Indian children is not acceptable," Cross testified.

Suppah said more and more children on the Warm Springs Reservation are being placed under child protection services. The tribe's 19 caseworkers each handle more than 100 case a year, he said.

"We need assistance almost across the board," Suppah told the committee.

Relevant Links:
National Indian Child Welfare Association -
Methamphetamine Facts, National Institute on Drug Abuse -
Senate Indian Affairs Committee -