The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and North Dakota recently finalized a historic oil and gas tax agreement, thanks to ongoing productive dialogue. I believe tribal and state governments work better in partnership, with respect for each other’s rights, both committed to create solutions.
I hope North Dakota will continue to be a partner as the MHA Nation urges the Department of the Interior to reaffirm the MHA Nation’s mineral rights under the Missouri River on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Since our first treaties were signed in 1825, our rights to the Missouri River and the minerals below it have been affirmed by the federal government numerous times. But under the current administration, these mineral rights have been called into question. When tribal leaders met with President Donald Trump, we were given assurances that we would have the administration’s support in developing our natural resources to grow our economy. But instead, officials in the administration suspended a 2017 Department of Interior decision that reaffirmed that MHA Nation’s ownership of the Missouri riverbed minerals on our reservation.
This decision by the department was the most recent of many federal acknowledgements of our property rights to the Missouri. Any attempt to interfere with our rights to these minerals is an unlawful violation that ignores longstanding precedent.
The MHA Nation can continue its path to self-sufficiency if this administration follows the law by affirming our rights to the Missouri riverbed minerals. These resources remain critical to our continued growth, prosperity, and independence.
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The Missouri River always has been the heart of our culture and livelihood. Before settlers arrived, we had a thriving, aboriginal economy fueled by the river. For centuries though, our lands and waters have been under constant threat. The construction of the Garrison Dam flooded our lands and created what is now known as Lake Sakakawea. With the flooding came economic collapse. We lost 25% of our most valuable reservation land. Ninety percent of our people lost their homes and were forced to relocate.
But even as our aboriginal territory has been degraded and destroyed, our tribe has always maintained its rights to the river and riverbed. We lost our economic hub with the flooding of our lands but we maintained our access to the river resources and minerals of the reservation. The U.S. government has stated on record for decades that the mineral resources of the riverbed on the reservation belong to the MHA Nation.
For the past 80 years, the Department of the Interior has maintained this position, which is also supported by Supreme Court precedent. Our rights to the minerals of the Missouri have been upheld time and time again. And yet, some officials in the Trump administration have clouded this long-standing property right by suspending the most recent DOI opinion that reaffirms our rights.
So now we are forced to again defend that which has always rightfully belonged to us.
Like North Dakota, the MHA Nation is a government responsible for the needs of its citizens in the areas of education, healthcare, law enforcement, social services and more. We are a government striving to provide for the increasingly complex needs of our community. Truck traffic on reservation roads has increased 600% in the last decade; our roads need constant repair and our people deserve safe infrastructure. The growth in our population means an increased need for law enforcement to protect everyone.
The future of our tribal nation depends on establishing and maintaining a healthy economy. This requires the ability to rely on the resources within our reservation and a focus on strong relationships between tribal and state governments.
We all have a stake in growing North Dakota’s economy and ensuring a healthy and prosperous future for everyone. The MHA Nation and North Dakota have proven ourselves able partners and allies in the future of our state. I hope our elected officials will join us once again in supporting our lawful property rights to the minerals under the Missouri River on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Mark Fox is the chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. He is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and earned his law degree in 1993 from the University of North Dakota. First elected chairman in 2014, Fox is serving his second term.