FARGO (AP) — A psychologist who wrote a letter expressing “grave concern” about children on the Spirit Lake reservation has been reprimanded and reassigned.
Michael Tilus, who served as behavioral health director of the Indian Health Service clinic in Fort Totten, wrote a letter in April that criticized the Spirit Lake Tribe for what he said were serious failures in protecting children from abuse or neglect.
An aide for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Tilus informed his office that he had received a letter of reprimand from the IHS for the letter. Tilus also told the senator’s office that he was reassigned to the agency’s regional headquarters in Aberdeen, S.D.
Tilus did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for IHS declined to comment.
Ryan Bernstein, Hoeven’s deputy chief of staff, said superiors criticized Tilus for going outside “proper channels” by criticizing the tribe in a letter sent to numerous state and federal officials.
“It talks about going outside the direct chain of command,” Bernstein said, describing the reprimand.
Tilus’ letter described the public health hazard facing endangered children on the reservation. He also said social services officials for the tribe were responsible for numerous legal and regulatory violations.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said in a statement that he is aware of Tilus’ letter of reprimand and reassignment and will monitor the situation.
“But through all this, we cannot lose sight of the most important issue here — the wellbeing of the children at Spirit Lake and reservations throughout Indian Country,” Conrad said. “Preventable tragedies have occurred that must never be permitted to happen again.”
Both Hoeven and Conrad have pressed IHS and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials to address gaps in child protection services identified by Tilus and later by Thomas Sullivan, a regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Human Services. Sullivan called for suspending all state and federal funding to the tribe until it put qualified officials in place to run programs to ensure children are not subjected to physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
In a July 18 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Conrad asked the agency to take action in response to the problems on the reservation described by Tilus.
“Specifically, I request that you take immediate action to supplement existing resources to address the program’s serious deficiencies, including, but not limited to, detailing all available social workers within the BIA system to the Spirit Lake Nation,” he wrote.