Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the headquarters of the Fort Peck Tribes in Poplar, Montana, on May 20, 2018. "I’m grateful for the hospitality on a Sunday. It’s good to be back with my adopted tribe," Zinke wrote on Twitter. Photo: Secretary Zinke

Secretary Zinke suggests sending children from troubled homes to boarding school

Secretary Ryan Zinke, the leader of the Department of the Interior, has an interesting response to the substance abuse crisis on the Fort Peck Reservation: send kids from troubled homes to a boarding school far away.

According to The Billings Gazette, Zinke has a particular Bureau of Indian Education institution in mind. That's the Riverside Indian School in Oklahoma -- some 1,100 miles from Fort Peck homelands in Montana.

"We think that focusing on moms and grandmas on rehabilitation in a community is a priority, and it won’t solve the problem, but I think it’s the best solution up front,” Zinke said during a visit to headquarters last week, The Gazette reported.

But one Fort Peck leader asked for something different. Marva Chapman-Firemoon, who serves on the executive board, said the reservation needs its own BIE boarding school or dormitory, something seen in a handful of other tribal communities.

"I always say that the federal government took our kids off the reservation, took them to boarding schools and all that, but now we want a boarding school, or a dormitory, either one," Chapman-Firemoon told Zinke at the May 20 meeting, the paper reported.

Chairman Floyd Azure proposed something else entirely too. He said the tribe needs a drug treatment center to help protect its youngest and most vulnerable.

“We have 107 kids in foster care right now, and the majority of that is because of drug problems and meth mainly. We had, last count, nine infants born addicted to meth," Azure told the secretary, The Gazette reported. "It’s tough to swallow when you see babies in that situation and they didn’t ask to be in that situation and they’re suffering.”

Zinke visited Riverside in January so it's probably still on his mind. The facility -- the oldest largest and oldest off-reservation boarding school in the U.S. -- educates about 500 students, representing 80 tribes from across the nation.

"Native youth embody the hopes and dreams of Indian Country. They are our budding public servants, entrepreneurs, military soldiers, academics, and community leaders," John Tahsuda, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at Interior, wrote in a blog post. He toured Riverside with Zinke in January.

There aren't any BIE dormitories or boarding schools in Montana, though. But there are some a lot closer than Riverside -- a handful in North Dakota and South Dakota.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, has been adopted at Fort Peck. While on the reservation this month, he visited the grave of Mike Bell, a tribal citizen and fellow SEAL who was murdered in 2006. Bell's father is the one who adopted Zinke.

" I put him through training. Incredible warrior with a big heart," Zinke said of Bell in a May 20 post on Twitter.

Read More on the Story:
On Fort Peck Reservation, where 107 kids are in foster care, tribes ask feds for help with drug problems (The Billings Gazette May 27, 2018)
Zinke Talks DOI Restructure and Infrastructure with Locals (The Glasgow Courier May 23, 2018)
Zinke says Interior reorganization still on track in speech at Fort Peck (The Billings Gazette May 21, 2018)

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