- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

BELCOURT, N.D. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp met Saturday with leaders of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa to identify strategies to improve the housing conditions in the reservation and address law enforcement concerns.

Heitkamp, a first-term Democratic senator from North Dakota, is a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“I’ve spent a great deal of time on Indian reservations in North Dakota and have seen firsthand the very real housing challenges in Indian Country,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “We can’t allow families to live for years in temporary housing like trailers.”

Her office said more than 600 families on the Turtle Mountain community are on a waiting list for housing. Heitkamp said she’ll continue to work for the reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act, which was first approved in 1996. It was set to reorganize and simplify the system of housing assistance provided to Native Americans.

During her Saturday visit to Indian Country, Heitkamp and tribal leaders also discussed crime and law enforcement issues that affect the reservation.

Although criminal prosecutions have recently soared on American Indian reservations in the Dakotas, tribal officials have told federal prosecutors that more needs to be done to quell crime.

The former chairman of the Turtle Mountain community, Merle St. Clair, has previously said that the tribal court system on the reservation is in “chaos” and backlogged with cases.

Unlike some tribal courts, the judicial system on the Turtle Mountain reservation is run by its own members.