This legislative session has taken a number of steps to improve state-tribal relations and everyone should be commended for it.
Two years ago legislators were still smarting from the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, which resulted in a number of bills that intended to retaliate. Overall, cooler heads prevailed, but the important relationship between the state and tribes was strained.
The point of this editorial isn’t to look at the rights and wrongs of the protests, instead, it’s to examine why a good relationship is so valuable for everyone.
For one, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation remains rich in oil. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation has been unhappy over how oil tax revenue was distributed. The MHA Nation believes how the tax was shared favored the state. A new oil tax agreement signed by the state and MHA Nation changes how the revenue is distributed. The agreement has been approved by the state Senate and still needs the OK from the state House.
The agreement would send 80 percent of oil tax revenue from trust lands to the tribe, while 20 percent would go to the state. For fee lands, which are private lands within the reservation, the state would receive 80 percent of the oil tax revenue and the tribe would receive 20 percent.
Under the agreement the tribal nation will receive more money. Gov. Doug Burgum stressed that a stable tax and regulatory environment will benefit both the tribe and the state by attracting additional investment. Now, the House needs to approve the agreement.
The Senate also passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 4017, which seeks a study of state and tribal practices in preserving cultural sites. While the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee recommended the Senate reject the resolution, it passed 27-18.
The Tribune Editorial Board believes it’s important to preserve historic and sacred sites and if we can find better ways to do that everyone will benefit. The resolution may face some hurdles in the House, but it should be approved.
One bill that enjoyed smooth sailing in both chambers would allow Native American students to wear an eagle feather or plume at their high school graduations. The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1335 last week after the House approved it 90-2.
During committee testimony students described the cultural significance of an eagle feather or plume, which is gifted to Native Americans when they reach a milestone in their life, such as graduation. Most school districts already allow students to wear eagle feathers and plumes at graduation, but the bill will lift any remaining bans.
The bill includes an emergency measure, meaning it will go into effect once the governor signs it. If signed, it means Native students across the state can wear them this spring.
Hopefully, these three measures indicate a healing process between the state and tribes. The tribes are important to the state not just because of oil, but they have an amazing cultural history. It’s a great draw for tourists, which benefits everyone. Their history also is North Dakota’s history and we should be thankful they are willing to share it.
When the oil tax agreement was signed a comment from one legislator summed up the importance not just of the tax agreement, but cooperation among all tribes and the state.
Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, said:
"This signing goes a long way to show that there's good faith and trust between the state of North Dakota and the Three Affiliated Tribes."
We encourage the continuation of this good faith and trust through the remainder of the legislative session.