The third annual Strengthening Government to Government Partnerships and Relationships conference was held at Bismarck State College on Jan. 15 and 16. Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Chairman Mark N. Fox attended the summit with other tribal leaders and state officials, including North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. Chairman Fox presented on tribal gaming issues and signed a historic Memorandum of Agreement with Governor Burgum reintroducing bighorn sheep to the Fort Berthold Reservation.
The annual Government to Government conference is part of Gov. Burgum’s efforts to improve relationships between tribal and state governments. Since its inception, the conference has brought tribal, state and federal government officials together to discuss issues and solutions. The event was hosted by ND Indian Affairs Commission Executive Director Scott Davis.
During the conference’s opening ceremony, Gov. Burgum discussed recent progress made between tribal nations and the state of ND, including the recent tax agreement with the MHA Nation.
"We've got an opportunity to get everybody in the room who has an opportunity to make progress on those issues to really listen to each other, talk to each other, gain understanding of each other, and move forward," said Burgum.
“We have seen constant improvement, constant change,” said Chairman Fox in his opening remarks. “Through working together, we create win-win situations for both the state and our tribal nations. That’s the goal here.”
Chairman Fox also discussed the significance of the Strengthening Government to Government Partnerships conference taking place on MHA Nation land.
“Our Nation was a strong civilization. Our Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations were aboriginal trade centers. We had a thriving economy,” continued Chairman Fox. “It really hits hard for me, all that was here before.”
Chairman Fox described the drastic changes that occurred after Europeans settled in North America, including smallpox epidemics that reduced the MHA Nation from 50,000 to 5,000 in number and the Garrison Dam project flooding the tribes’ most fertile farmland.
“We’ve been in recovery mode ever since. We’ve been trying to regain what we had,” Chairman Fox said. “We were the first farmers here, an important part of the economy that existed thousands of years before European settlers.”
Chairman Fox went on to discuss the MHA Nation’s efforts to return to its traditional self-sufficiency.
“We are now in a position to regain what we once had. Our goal is to raise the standard of living for tribal members, to combat social-economic poverty. To combat disease,” said Chairman Fox. “What is a true sovereign? The ability to not depend on anyone else. Sovereignty means growing your own food. Sovereignty means generating our own power, putting infrastructure in place, exporting own goods.”
Chairman Fox also acknowledged Gov. Burgum for his willingness to work with tribes on important issues.
“We elected someone as governor of this state who has made it a priority to work with tribes,” said Chairman Fox. “We don’t always agree, but Gov. Burgum takes the time to listen. He takes the time to try to understand.”
On Jan. 16, Gov. Burgum and Chairman Fox signed a Memorandum of Agreement facilitating the reintroduction of bighorn sheep to the Fort Berthold Reservation. A deal two years in the making, the bighorn sheep agreement is another example of state-tribal cooperation. The bighorn sheep will be transported from the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana, and the MHA Nation will oversee a ram hunting season.
In honor of the agreement, Chairman Fox presented Gov. Burgum with Colorado alabaster buffalo statue made by Turtle Mountain tribal artist James DeCoteau.