MHA Nation Chairman plans for food sovereignty

Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation Chairman Mark N. Fox plans to capture flared gas from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation’s numerous oil wells to transform his community into an agricultural powerhouse. A fierce proponent of tribal sovereignty, Chairman Fox’s agriculture-flaring plan is his latest move toward MHA Nation self-sustainability.

The plan, modeled after sustainable greenhouse agriculture in the Netherlands, will allow the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation to produce its own food through compressed natural gas. The tribe will use the gas to power greenhouses, which will grow food year-round. Greenhouse agriculture has allowed the Netherlands to become the world’s second-largest exporter of food after the United States, despite its relatively small landmass.

“Our focus has been non-renewable energy resources, like oil,” said Chairman Fox. “We can’t be that short-sighted. It would be a tragic mistake to not recommit and invest our resources in renewable energy.”

Chairman Fox’s administration is dedicated to the preservation of the tribe’s resources, developing a strategic science plan to protect tribal land, water and air quality. Chairman Fox has spoken with greenhouse agriculturalists in the Netherlands, who plan to share their technology with the tribe.

The MHA Nation’s homeland has been drastically altered by the Bakken Formation oil boom. Once an isolated community in western North Dakota, the Fort Berthold Reservation saw massive oil development in the last decade. The boom led to the construction of countless oil rigs flaring millions of dollars in natural gas.

With the oil boom came battles between the MHA Nation and the state of North Dakota for control of the Missouri River bottomlands and tax revenue. The reservation, which lost 152,360 acres during the Pick-Sloan Plan’s damming of the Missouri River in the 1950s, is located in the heart of the Bakken Region.

The Garrison Dam, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), displaced hundreds of tribal members and nearly destroyed the tribes’ traditionally-agricultural way of life. With the Missouri River flooding into Lake Sakakawea, the MHA Nation lost its most fertile bottomlands, with thousands of acres kept by the USACE.

Chairman Fox, a graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Law and former Tax Director for the tribe, worked tirelessly for the return of 30,000 acres from the USACE. Since elected tribal chairman in 2014, Fox has sought to combat the oil boom’s negative impacts while also utilizing its profits to improve his nation’s quality of life.

Under the Fox administration, the Fort Berthold Reservation has seen the development of $200 million in infrastructure, increased addiction recovery services, and health insurance for all qualifying tribal members. Fox was elected tribal chairman for a second term in Nov. 2018, and has now turned his attention to renewable energy.

“I strongly believe we will see projects like this all over Indian Country,” said Chairman Fox. “This plan will allow our people to become providers.”

The project will create numerous jobs for residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation, renewing the tribes’ centuries-old agricultural roots. Chairman Fox also sees the move toward sustainable agriculture as a way to safeguard his nation against the future ravages of climate change.

“We don’t want to wait for cataclysmic events,” said Chairman Fox. “We are working toward renewable energy food production to prevent future starvation.”

Anthony Folden, Chairman Fox’s renewable energy consultant, plays a significant part in the project’s development team.

“I’m very excited about the greenhouses, and hope they can help our tribe in more ways than just monetary,” said Folden. “Being able to grow our own food with green technology so we can move away from oil is something I’m very excited about.”

Folden hopes to develop a state-of-the-art wind farm for the MHA Nation while the greenhouse project is moving forward.

“Chairman Fox knew about my enthusiasm for renewable energy and reached out to me to assist in its development and operations,” said Folden.

Chairman Fox will travel to the Netherlands to visit greenhouse sites in the near future.