Signing ceremony

Leaders from North Dakota's five tribes were at the state Capitol Friday for a ceremonial signing of a new agreement with the state over child welfare services. All the tribes except the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, which signed an agreement with South Dakota, signed the agreements. At the podium are Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Mike Faith and state Department of Human Services Executive Director Chris Jones.

North Dakota and the state’s tribes have taken another step on the path to better relations. Recently the tribes and Gov. Doug Burgum signed a new agreement over federal funding for child welfare services.

The agreement hadn’t been updated in 36 years. Among the provisions, it allows the tribes to license foster care parents on and off reservations. Four tribal leaders signed the agreement. Earlier, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate signed a similar agreement with South Dakota.

This is just the latest move to improve relations since the Dakota Access Pipeline protests strained the relationship. Burgum has made it a priority to improve relations since taking office, launching talks with the tribes as the protests were winding down.

During the 2019 Legislature, an oil revenue sharing agreement with the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation was approved and signed. The agreement provides the MHA Nation with 80% of oil tax revenue from trust lands with the other 20% going to the state.

This was kind of a change-of-the-heart move by the Legislature. During the 2017 session, there had been failed attempts to pass legislation that were seen as retribution for the protests. This year also saw the revival of the tribal address to a joint session of the Legislature.

Burgum has been involved in other efforts to improve the relationship between the state and the tribes.

The child welfare agreement rightfully should be seen as an important achievement. As reporter Blair Emerson explained in her story, the agreement involves funding under Title IV-E of the Social Services Act. Title IV-E provides funding to the states and tribes for foster care, transitional independent living programs, and guardianship and adoption programs and services. Tribes can access the funding through an agreement with the states.

There’s certainly a need for foster care funding. The number of Native children in foster care increased 68% from 2012 to 2017. The ability of tribes to now license foster parents off the reservation should increase the opportunities of children to be placed in homes. Under the agreement, the tribes establish the rules for foster parents. It’s possible foster parents won’t be limited to Native Americans.

Not to say other couples don’t provide caring surroundings, but there are cultural reasons Native homes can be more comforting.

It’s also good that tribes can still work with tribal members who are living off the reservations.

The signed agreement also involves changes in the Family First Prevention Services Act. It provides additional funding for Title IV-E for prevention services to keep children out of foster care. The prevention services include parent aide services, respite services and family counseling.

MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox noted that collaboration with the state is essential in building resources for the tribes. If the state can work with the tribes to improve life on the reservations and for Natives everywhere, it’s a win for everyone.

As noted at the beginning, this is another step on the path to a better relationship and a better life.

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