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Tribune editorial: State wrong in riverbed mineral fight

Tribune editorial: State wrong in riverbed mineral fight

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The Department of Interior and North Dakota should quit trying to take away riverbed mineral rights from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. The Tribune editorial board believes it’s nothing more than a money grab.

At stake is ownership of submerged lands beneath the Missouri River where it flows through the Fort Berthold Reservation. There’s an estimated $100 million in oil royalties in escrow waiting to be claimed along with any future payments.

There have been three opinions over the years supporting tribal ownership -- the first in 1936 by former solicitor Nathan Margold, a second by the Interior Board of Land Appeals in 1979 and the third in a memo by former solicitor Hilary Thompkins, the department secretary in the Obama administration.

Now, in a memo by Daniel Jorjani, the solicitor in the Trump administration, the state has been called the owner of the lands. Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox has promised to file a federal lawsuit.

The Tribune believes the tribes have been wronged enough on this issue. If not for the oil royalties, it’s doubtful the state would care about the riverbed rights. It’s another effort by the government to cheat the tribes. When land was taken for the Garrison Dam project, landowners -- Indian and white -- didn’t have a choice or get a fair price.

The effort to take the mineral rights adds to the shameful treatment of the tribes. The state lobbied to have Thompkins’ opinion reviewed based on the historical record. Jorjani’s memo is the result of the historical review by Historical Research Associates Inc.

It appears the courts will have to decide ownership, but it’s unfortunate the state has pursued the issue for so long. It’s not the only dispute involving the state and mineral rights. Last September, a Williams County judge sided with a family in a lawsuit over mineral rights under Lake Sakakawea.

The lawsuit focused on who owns the mineral rights under land the federal government acquired for the Garrison Dam. The land had been owned by J.T. and Evelyn Wilkinson. The family could be owed more than $1 million, and other former landowners may be impacted by the ruling.

There’s a lot of money involved in the fight with the tribes over the mineral rights. The desire for the money doesn’t make it right for the state to pursue the case. The Tribune believes the state is wrong, and we hope the courts side with the tribes. Throughout history, tribes have been treated badly, but in this case we feel the tribes have history on their side.

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