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Tribe says 'wrong righted' in transfer of Lake Sakakawea land to tribe

LAKE SAKAKAWEA, N.D.--Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox said the recent restoration of 25,000 acres of land bordering Lake Sakakawea to the tribes helps mend an historic injustice caused by construction of Garrison Dam.

LAKE SAKAKAWEA, N.D.-Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox said the recent restoration of 25,000 acres of land bordering Lake Sakakawea to the tribes helps mend an historic injustice caused by construction of Garrison Dam.

The U.S. Army Corps returned excess land from reservoir operations to the Department of the Interior in trust for the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Fox said the transfer goes some way toward righting a decades-old wrong.

"Half of our adult men were fighting for their country and their homes in World War II when the federal government began making plans to take our lands for the Garrison Dam. The flood caused by the dam displaced 90 percent of our people from their homes. It literally destroyed our heartland," Fox said. "I am grateful that this goal has been accomplished, and the hard work of so many of our leaders has finally paid off."

The corps took 25 percent of Fort Berthold - more than 150,000 acres, the best land on the Missouri River bottoms - to flood the dam. The water covered seven communities on the reservation, including Sanish, Elbowoods, Independence and Nishu. Tribal land owners were paid $33 an acre for their land, relocation and reconstruction.

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The transfer has been in the works for more than a decade. It is authorized under the Fort Berthold Minerals Restoration Act of 1984 that gave the corps permission to return unneeded land within the reservation boundary, consisting primarily of undeveloped grasslands above the maximum flood control pool for Lake Sakakawea.

According to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the transfer protects lawful public access, including for recreation. Current leases will continue and the Interior and the tribes will jointly manage future leases, she said, adding that the Interior will record and implement any new rights-of-way on the transferred lands.

Indian Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Lawrence Roberts said the transfer protects existing land uses and recognizes the tribes' sovereign authority to manage the land.

According to a joint statement, the transfer is part of the Obama administration's commitment to restoring tribal homelands. The Fort Berthold transfer is one of 2,265 actions that have restored more than 500,000 acres into trust status since 2009.

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