McFeely: Go to the camp, Gov. Dalrymple, and talk

FARGO--You should have visited Cannon Ball by now, Governor. Maybe you still could. It might help clear up some things, for all of us. You might have noticed, but possibly not, that we have two distinctly different narratives being pitched about ...

Gov. Jack Dalrymple gives a speech about the continuing investment of unmanned aircrafts at the Grand Forks County Building in Grand Forks, ND on July 6, 2015. (Grand Forks herald/ Joshua Komer)

FARGO-You should have visited Cannon Ball by now, Governor.

Maybe you still could.

It might help clear up some things, for all of us.

You might have noticed, but possibly not, that we have two distinctly different narratives being pitched about the protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the gathering of Native Americans at the Sacred Stone Camp. It's confusing for many.

Perhaps, as the state's leader, you owe it to the people to help them figure out what is really happening. Seeing things with your own eyes and visiting with people your administration has helped demonize could help.


On the one hand, we have people who have visited the encampment who say, to a person, Sacred Stone is peaceful and spiritual and moving. They admit there might be some bad actors among the protesters pushing back against the construction of an oil pipeline under the Missouri River just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, but those looking to cause trouble are in the vast minority.

On the other hand we have state officials, conservative media commentators and others who are hell-bent on painting a picture of lawlessness and danger; that the camp and protest site are a tinderbox ready to explode.

Which is true? Or at least close to being true?

The problem is, Governor, the actions and words of your administration haven't helped. When you declared a state of emergency a few weeks ago and said the protest was a "significant public safety concern," yeah, that kind of made people nervous.

When your lieutenant governor, Drew Wrigley, used a well-read interview with the Grand Forks Herald to be alarmist and paint the protesters with a broad brush as criminals, yeah, that didn't help either. Wrigley used phrases like "very serious," "very significant and challenging," "extremely dangerous," "very, very concerning," "hundreds of criminal acts," "life-threatening federal crimes," "talk of weapons," "unlawful, intimidating, dangerous."

Words matter. So maybe you could saunter on down to the camp and exchange some with your state's citizens, face to face, the old-fashioned way.

I posed this scenario to Wrigley the other day on my 970 WDAY radio show. Why doesn't the governor go and meet the campers?

"People should ask the other question," Wrigley said. "When there is an unlawful encampment, should the reward of all this illegal activity be the state of North Dakota sending down its governor to hear the protesters? No. The governor has spoken repeatedly with tribal leadership. We have almost daily interaction on behalf of the governor. We've met with top-level emissaries and at some points the leader of the Standing Rock Sioux. So there is an open and ongoing dialogue."


But if the goal is to diffuse tension and ensure a peaceful outcome, couldn't a good-faith meeting go a long way toward that?

"I don't know who you'd meet," Wrigley said. "I guess it would be a roving meeting. Just walk around and meet with everybody and hope that you've met with every faction."

There's that tone again, Governor. Dismissive. Aggressive. Overly so, kind of like the rent-a-cops with attack dogs and pepper spray we saw last weekend. Who thought that was a good idea? Maybe that's another face-to-face meeting you should have, one with the executives of the pipeline company. They're not helping.

We will learn much when a federal judge issues a ruling on the Standing Rock tribe's call for an injunction to stop construction on the pipeline. That is expected Friday, Sept. 9. No matter which way the ruling goes, if the campers and protesters respond peacefully at Cannon Ball then perhaps it is time to drive south from the Capitol and meet some of the people who deserve respect.

Then again, Governor, you've called for a dozen armed National Guard troops to support law enforcement in anticipation of the judge's ruling. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

I've not been to Cannon Ball, so I don't know where the truth lies. We might find out when news of the ruling breaks.

If the reality of the Dakota Access Pipeline protest and camp is the one being conveyed by those who've visited, it would behoove the governor to make a show of good faith. Visit. Listen. Talk. It would convey a message much more calming than the one your administration has pushed thus far.

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