An association of the five federally recognized tribes in North Dakota has endorsed Clare Hochhalter to be the state's next top federal prosecutor.
The United Tribes of North Dakota issued a resolution on July 20 after interviews conducted of Hochhalter and competitor Drew Wrigley by tribal chairman and representatives on July 7.
"The board interviewed both candidates evenly and thoroughly, reviewed their written submitted materials, and reviewed their public records, actions and comments on law enforcement in Indian Country," the tribes wrote. "Having done so, the UTND endorses Clare Hochhalter for the U.S. Attorney for North Dakota."
The UTND is composed of the tribal chairperson and one council member from each tribe. The vote was six in favor and four not present.
In an interview Wednesday evening, Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said he felt that both candidates have had respectable careers, but that he could not get past statements and actions taken by Wrigley during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Wrigley was outspoken in public, frequently calling the protests unlawful and dangerous.
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"I would rather have somebody who I know doesn't have a biased opinion towards the tribes," said Archambault, who was not present for the interview but knows Wrigley personally.
By contrast, he said that Hochhalter would make a "great U.S. attorney. It felt like he did know a little more about federal law when applied to the tribes."
Hochhalter is a veteran federal prosecutor and serves as the criminal chief out of the U.S. attorney's office in Bismarck. Wrigley is a former U.S. attorney and lieutenant governor, and he works at Sanford Health.
Wrigley said in a brief interview that he does not think his involvement in the protest would affect his credibility with the tribes.
"I spoke to the need for law and order. I spoke against millions of dollars in damage ... (and) protests that had spun out of control," Wrigley said.
He added that he would aggressively prosecute crime in Indian Country and visit the tribes early in his tenure.
Hochhalter said late Wednesday that he feels "very honored and grateful for their support."
Ryan Bernstein, legal counsel and chief of staff for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the resolution would not affect the senator's endorsement of Wrigley.
"He was a good U.S. attorney for North Dakota and will be a good U.S. attorney for North Dakota, including tribal reservations," Bernstein said, adding that he had also heard good things about Wrigley from tribal chairpersons.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement that she will share the tribes endorsement with the White House for their consideration in making a recommendation for the next U.S. Attorney.
"It's imperative that any U.S. Attorney for North Dakota thoroughly understands and has the ability to accommodate the needs of Native communities in our state, particularly when the job is seated in the personal and unique position of determining the outcome of criminal cases on tribal lands. I was glad to hear that both candidates took the time to listen to and sit with the tribes about the needs for strengthening this important relationship, and as the tribes deserve a clear and distinct voice in this process, I'll be sure to relay their preference for the job to the White House."
The interviews with the candidates came after a resolution passed June 2 that said the tribes wanted a role in picking the next U.S. attorney, because he or she is in charge of prosecuting the most serious crimes on the reservations.
A version of the resolution was subsequently adopted on a national level by the National Congress for American Indians.
The resolution passed this month also lists expectations for the next U.S. attorney.
The tribes want this person to understand tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction and the treaties relating to North Dakota's Indian tribes. They also want federal law enforcement to spend "substantial amounts of time" in the native communities, learning about their culture and the "positive elements of our nations."
The tribes also request that a future U.S. attorney assign designated prosecutors for individual reservations. They additionally want the top prosecutor to consider tribal community standards for when it is OK to decline to prosecute a case and be creative in charging and sentencing to reflect the "local nature of many crimes."
This article has been clarified to reflect the fact that the resolution was passed by the association of the United Tribes of North Dakota not the individual tribes.
Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at email@example.com