Tribal chairman to ND: Let's work together

Associated Press
Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, waits outside the House chamber of the North Dakota Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 6, before giving a speech to a joint session of the North Dakota House and Senate. In the first days of the North Dakota legislative session, lawmakers hear a speech by a North Dakota American Indian tribal leader about the state of the relationship between tribal governments and North Dakota's state government.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's American Indian tribes are ready for a comprehensive approach to solving the problems shared by the state and tribal governments, Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall said.

"We didn't want to just call it an economic plan," Hall said in a speech to a joint session of the North Dakota House and Senate on Thursday. "It has to include education, it has to include infrastructure, and it has to include our courts and our judicial systems."

Hall appealed for increased state support for vocational training, which he said would help reduce high unemployment rates on reservations.

He praised the Legislature's willingness to provide state aid for tribal community colleges. Gov. Jack Dalrymple has recommended $1 million for tribal college grants during the state's next two-year budget, an increase from present spending of $700,000.

Hall said the Three Affiliated Tribes would ask to reopen an oil tax sharing agreement, first negotiated three years ago, that set terms for dividing up oil revenues and outlined the responsibilities of the two governments to regulate the industry's operations on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

The reservation is at the center of a boom in oil production in western North Dakota. State Tax Department data show the state has received about $43.7 million in taxes from reservation oil since July 2008, while the Three Affiliated Tribes has received $19.1 million. The state's share is itself divided among counties, cities, school districts and a number of state funds and programs.

The reservation presently has 87 producing oil wells and 11 wells being drilled. Hall said oil companies are expected to drill at least another 200 wells this year.

Tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs road maintenance money is not enough to keep the reservation's roads in good repair as a result of heavy oil industry truck traffic, Hall said. The reservation has about 1,100 miles of road, and Hall said the tribe's annual road maintenance budget was $456,000.

The need for more money for road maintenance is one of the reasons the tribe wants to revisit the tax-sharing agreement, Hall told lawmakers.

"(Oil companies are) not all drilling as much as they can right now because of the weather," Hall said, referring to recent frigid, snowy conditions. "But they will, and when they do, I don't think our roads are going to be safe, and I don't think we have the infrastructure to allow this kind of an economy to build. The last thing we want is to slow that down."

The state and tribe are at loggerheads over ownership of the Missouri River bed, a question that affects who has the rights to oil deposits that may be beneath it.

However, the Three Affiliated Tribes and North Dakota state government have the same interest in blocking an Army Corps of Engineers proposal to charge storage fees for surplus Lake Sakakawea water, Hall said. The lake split the Fort Berthold reservation in two when it was formed by the damming of the Missouri River in the early 1950s.

The oil industry, municipal water systems and farm irrigators are interested in using the water, and the fees would greatly increase the cost of doing so.

"We stand as a tribe with the state of North Dakota to oppose, oppose the corps," Hall said Thursday as legislators clapped and cheered. "I think we've sacrificed enough."

Dalrymple, in an interview, said the fee proposal was wrongheaded.

"Any way you want to look at it, it really is outrageous," Dalrymple said. "We think that the law and the treaties and every bit of precedent that has taken place over the last 50 years says that the people of North Dakota have a right to that water."

For more than 20 years, North Dakota lawmakers have listened to a speech by a North Dakota American Indian tribal leader during the first week of each legislative session. The responsibility is rotated among the chairmen of the Standing Rock Sioux, Spirit Lake Sioux, Three Affiliated Tribes and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Hall has given the speech once before, in 2003, when he was the first tribal chairman to deliver the address to a joint session of the North Dakota Legislature. Before, the designated tribal chairman gave separate addresses to the House and Senate.