Gov. Doug Burgum’s announcement that his office would display the flags of North Dakota’s five tribal nations was one of the more warmly received parts of his State of the State address Thursday.
It was also somewhat of a spur-of-the-moment declaration that wasn't included in his prepared remarks provided to reporters.
Burgum, a first-term Republican who has emphasized improving the state’s relationships with the tribes, has thought about displaying the flags for more than a year, his spokesman Mike Nowatzki said. But it was only until he was inspired by the State-Tribal Relationship address Thursday morning that the governor decided to announce the decision in his speech that afternoon, which received a standing ovation in the House chambers.
The five flags are now standing just outside the public entrance to Burgum’s office in the state Capitol.
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Jamie Azure called the decision "monumental" in a Twitter post.
Democratic Sen. Richard Marcellais, a former Turtle Mountain chairman, welcomed Burgum’s surprise announcement. He has unsuccessfully pushed legislation to display the tribal flags in the state Capitol, and he said he may cancel another effort in light of Burgum’s decision.
But Marcellais hoped there would be a ceremony to go along with displaying the flags.
“Each nation’s flag has a story to it,” he said, comparing displaying the tribal flags to flying other nations' flags in Washington, D.C. "It's a relationship between the tribes and the state."
An estimated 5.5 percent of North Dakota's population is American Indian and Alaska Native, according to Census figures.
Burgum arrived in Bismarck in late 2016 during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which he said in his first State of the State address had "lifted the veil of a troubled social fabric on the northern Great Plains." He cited the history of broken promises and displaced Native Americans during westward expansion.
In Thursday's speech, he said state officials would work with tribes on issues like oil and gas tax revenue sharing, law enforcement and behavioral health with "the mutual respect and the understanding that we are all North Dakotans."