Journalism group slams North Dakota tribal government over transparency issues
The Society of Professional Journalists gave Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation leaders this year's Black Hole Award. It's the first time the group has given the award to a tribal government.
A national journalism group has called out the Three Affiliated Tribes, saying its administration has transparency issues and allegedly violated the tribal nation’s constitution and bylaws.
The Society of Professional Journalists gave the leaders of the Three Affiliated Tribes, also known as the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, this year's Black Hole Award, which “highlights the most heinous violations of the public’s right to know,” SPJ said in a news release. It's the first time SPJ has given the award to a tribal government.
“The scope and scale of the lack of transparency by the Three Affiliated Tribes sets it apart from the very strong contenders for this year's Black Hole Award,” said Shannon Shaw Duty, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee member, Osage News editor and Osage tribal citizen. “This case appears to be a prime case study in how secrecy regarding use of public funds undermines faith in government.”
Chairman Mark Fox’s administration received two nominations for the Black Hole Award from citizens of the Three Affiliated Tribes, according to SPJ. The Forum's attempts to reach Fox on Friday, March 17, for comment on the award were unsuccessful.
Howard Goldberg, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee member and retired AP New York bureau chief, said Three Affiliated Tribes leaders lacked compliance with tribal constitution financial disclosure rules and have “erected a stunning wall of secrecy around how they spend the hundreds of millions of dollars a year they receive in tax revenue, oil and gas royalties, and income from their large casino and hotel in Fort Berthold."
The SPJ said Three Affiliated Tribes did not provide a copy of its 2018 audit or any other audit when tribal residents requested the records.
Tribal officials have been implicated in illegal fiscal activity, including bribery between a contractor and tribe officials . The administration also purchased property for $90-125 million and did not inform the citizens until the deal was finalized, according to the SPJ.
“The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation leaders undermine democracy on a daily basis while operating as an authoritarian government that represses opposition, silences citizen voices and allows for ongoing secrecy of government spending," said SPJ FOI Committee Chair Jodi Rave Spotted Bear, who is an enrolled citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes, an SPJ at-large director and an SPJ Foundation Board member.