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ND cancels tribal address, chairman calls decision a 'dishonor'

BISMARCK -- North Dakota legislators have canceled a traditional state of the tribes address in January due to security concerns over recent protests, but tribes will still have a chance to meet with legislative leaders at the start of the session.

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Richard McCloud (right) is seen on Jan. 10, 2013, at the State Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., where he delivered the State of the Tribal-State Relations Address. Photo by Dennis J. Neumann/United Tribes News
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Richard McCloud (right) is seen on Jan. 10, 2013, at the State Capitol in Bismarck, N.D., where he delivered the State of the Tribal-State Relations Address. Photo by Dennis J. Neumann/United Tribes News

BISMARCK - North Dakota legislators have canceled a traditional state of the tribes address in January due to security concerns over recent protests, but tribes will still have a chance to meet with legislative leaders at the start of the session.

Members of Legislative Management voted 10-3 Thursday, Nov. 17, to cancel the State/Tribal Relationship and the State of the Judiciary Address, citing concerns about security and the recent strain on law enforcement resources while responding to Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

Chairman Richard McCloud of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa called it a "dishonor" when he heard legislators canceled the address, a tradition that leaders of North Dakota's five tribal nations have rotated in each of the past 16 legislative sessions.

"I've heard rumors that it's going to be a difficult session this year specifically for Indian Country because of what's going on in Standing Rock, that all the tribes would be paying the price," said McCloud, who delivered the address in 2013. "I feel that this is one way of starting that."

North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis said he worked quickly Thursday to find another solution after learning the event was canceled. Late Thursday, Davis told Forum News Service he had secured commitments from House and Senate leaders to meet with each of the tribes during the first week in January in place of the address in front of the legislative assembly.

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"I'm glad they accepted," Davis said. "I think it's a better plan. It's more in-depth. You get more business done that way."

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who made the motion to cancel the addresses, said the state Capitol has been on lockdown numerous times recently due to protest activities. After meeting with the Highway Patrol to discuss security concerns, the legislative committee decided to cancel the speeches, which are not required in statute, out of safety concerns for Capitol workers.

"Our law enforcement because of the DAPL thing is stressed to the absolute limit," Carlson said.

Rep. Marvin Nelson, Rolla, who was among the three Democrats who opposed Carlson's motion, said canceling the address is the opposite of what the state should do to de-escalate tensions resulting from the ongoing pipeline protests.

"It's a really bad time to have less interactions with our tribes," Nelson said. "We need more interaction and more talk."

Myra Pearson, chairwoman of the Spirit Lake Nation, was lined up to give the next address to legislators, planning to focus some of her time on the state of emergency the tribe has declared related to drugs on the reservation.

"We don't have any relationship any longer with that state Capitol building," she said.

Pearson said she tried to meet with someone at the Capitol in early September on the same day that a protest was underway outside the building. She and her grandson who was with her were met by a line of law enforcement inside the building.

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"I was asked to leave. I was removed from there. I've never been back there," Pearson said. "I don't even go to Bismarck for meetings anymore."

Pearson said she looks forward to meeting Gov.-elect Doug Burgum and is hopeful relations with the state will improve.

McCloud said most of the protesters who have been arrested since anti-pipeline demonstrations escalated in mid-August near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation are from other states.

"Unfortunately, it seems like North Dakota tribes are going to have to suffer the cost," he said.

Sen. Richard Marcellais, D-Belcourt, called the decision to cancel the address "a disgrace" and said he plans to investigate whether it was proper for Legislative Management to cancel the event without input from the entire Legislature. Legislative Management is a panel of 17 lawmakers that carries out certain Legislature functions between its biennial sessions.

"A lot of the incidents and trouble that's going on, it's not North Dakota tribal members," said Marcellais, who said to his knowledge he's the only Native American state legislator. "It's out-of-state members that are causing all these problems."

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II, who delivered the address in 2015, was unavailable for an interview Thursday, but he offered this statement:

"We are always honored to share our reality and we are always willing to build relationships with policy makers. The State of Affairs address benefits all members of our state," he said.

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Mark Fox, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, said he thinks canceling the address is going to have a negative impact on state-tribal relations.

"It sends a bad message to the five tribes in North Dakota and I'm greatly concerned about it," Fox said.

Davis said he plans to contact each tribal chairperson to inform them of the upcoming meetings with legislative leaders. The individual meetings will allow each tribe more time to discuss issues important to their members, Davis said.

"I think this plan is going to definitely improve on communication and consultation," Davis said.

The discussions would likely be closed to the public, he said.

The motion to cancel the addresses was supported by Republican Sens. Ray Holmberg of Grand Forks, Don Schaible of Mott, Jessica Unruh of Beulah and Rich Wardner of Dickinson, and GOP Reps. Carlson, Wes Belter of Fargo, Bill Devlin of Finley, Jason Dockter of Bismarck, Dan Ruby of Minot and Jim Schmidt of Mott.

The Democrats who opposed the motion were Sen. Connie Triplett of Grand Forks and Reps. Nelson and Kathy Hogan of Fargo.

Related Topics: DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE
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