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Three Affiliated Tribes chastise Cramer comments

NEW TOWN -- The business council of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation says it cannot condone or tolerate recent comments from Rep. Kevin Cramer and requests an immediate meeting with Cramer.

A statement from Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall and the business council "condemns the actions and statements" made by Cramer, R-N.D., on March 26 at a gathering of victim assistance professionals from the state's American Indian reservations, as recounted by an official who was there.

Hall requests an apology to the tribes and an immediate meeting between North Dakota tribes and Cramer to discuss his actions. In the statement, Hall and the business council also request an immediate apology to Melissa Merrick, director of the Spirit Lake Nation's victim assistance program, "who bore the brunt of Cramer's negative comments."

Tribal representatives distributed the statement Wednesday in New Town during a stop on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's tour of the Fort Berthold Reservation.

According to Merrick's account, Cramer said that he would not feel safe on reservations because of new provisions in the Violence Against Women Act that would allow non-Indians to be tried in tribal courts.

She quoted Cramer as saying, "Tribal governments are dysfunctional. Tribal courts are dysfunctional, and how could a non-native man get a fair trial on the reservations?"

Cramer said late Wednesday he welcomes an opportunity to meet with the tribes. He said he talked to Hall last week and appreciated Hall's offer to get the tribes together.

Cramer said even though his recollection of what happened is different than Merrick's account, he takes full responsibility and he has apologized publicly. He reiterated that he voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and said he's committed to keeping women and children safe.

"At some point, we really do have to be about the business of solving problems and not reiterating the same incident over and over again," Cramer said.

Heitkamp, D-N.D., who was asked about Cramer's comments during a meeting with tribal elders, said she talked to other women who also were upset about Cramer's comments. Heitkamp said she expects other people will come forward with their accounts of what happened.

"It wasn't just Melissa who was upset," Heitkamp said.