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Gov. Burgum touts accomplishments with North Dakota tribes

Gov. Burgum touts accomplishments with North Dakota tribes

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Gov. Doug Burgum was the keynote speaker at the Strengthening Government to Government Partnerships and Relationships Conference on Wednesday in Bismarck. Burgum said the goals of his administration and those of the five American Indian tribes in the state are similar, in empowering people, improving lives and inspiring success.

Gov. Doug Burgum sees accomplishments but more work to do with tribes in North Dakota.

The governor spoke Wednesday at the Strengthening Government to Government Partnerships and Relationships Conference in Bismarck. Leaders of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Spirit Lake Nation, Standing Rock Sioux and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa also gave remarks on state and tribal government relations and issues facing their tribes -- chiefly addiction.

Burgum, a Republican seeking a second term with Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, described his administration's work with state lawmakers, elected officials and tribes in "a whole-of-government approach towards building stronger relationships." Tribal engagement has been an initiative of his administration.

"To begin tribal engagement, the thing that we did first was to listen," Burgum said, describing his and Cabinet officials' meetings with tribes.

Among the accomplishments with tribes since he took office in December 2016, Burgum counted an oil tax revenue-sharing compact with MHA Nation, updated agreements for child welfare services for Native American families and his display of North Dakota tribal flags in Memorial Hall of the state Capitol.

Tribal flag display called 'small, symbolic' step toward improved relationships
North Dakota, MHA Nation sign new oil tax compact
'A historic leap forward': ND tribes sign updated agreement with state over child welfare services

But Burgum sees more to be done.

"We know that there are serious gaps that still exist," he said. "And we know that each of the tribal nations represented in our state have different challenges and different approaches and different starting points and different opportunities. Each has different needs, whether it's transportation or employment or emergency services or addiction or health care or economic development."

Tribal leaders welcomed the two-day conference for discussing and understanding issues such as addiction, unemployment, youth engagement and the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census on reservations.

"One of the things that I know our people say at home they want -- it's good to visit and leave, but to have something at the end of all of the hard work and the time that's invested," Spirit Lake Tribal Chairwoman Peggy Cavanaugh said. "So that's what I really look forward to."

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Jamie Azure said including "the next generation" is important. He singled out the Turtle Mountain Youth Council.

"They are setting that foundation for the future," Azure said.

MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox commended Burgum's efforts to engage with tribes and said, "I consider him a friend." Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith presented Burgum with a beaded sheath.

Democratic-NPL Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen said Burgum's time in office hasn't been entirely rosy for tribal relations.

"While engagement with tribal governments improved in some ways, the governor has overseen a period in which Republicans doubled down on voter suppression policies disproportionately affecting Native Americans," she told the Tribune. "The legislative action and implementation of the restrictive voter ID bill were not made in consultation with tribal governments. The impact of that ongoing disenfranchisement cannot be overlooked." 

Burgum expressed his and Sanford's "fullest and highest and unequivocal support" for North Dakota residents' ability to vote.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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