Presidential forum is an opportunity for stronger federal-tribal relations

Frank LaMere Presidential Forum is in Sioux City, Iowa, on Monday and Tuesday #NativeForum #NativeVote20

Mark Fox

Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation

Throughout our nation’s history, Indigenous peoples’ issues have been on the periphery of the American consciousness. Despite Natives serving in the military at higher rates than any other ethnic group, the first peoples of this continent have largely been forgotten – with the exception of conflicts over land, resources and water.Now, nearly 300 years after our nation’s founding, a rare presidential forum on Native American issues is being held Monday and Tuesday in Sioux City, Iowa.

Importantly, we are able to discuss what is at stake for Indian Country on a national stage as we prepare for a presidential election.

From the Revolutionary War to the 21 century’s War on Terror, American Indians have willingly and bravely served in the U.S. military. Indeed, we fought for the United States long before we were considered legal citizens. It wasn’t until 1924 that the Indian Citizenship Act recognized us as Americans, despite our having lived on this continent since time immemorial. Our contributions to the United States (and the world) are many, but we are often relegated to the footnotes of our nation’s history.

It is my hope that all presidential candidates, regardless of party affiliation, address what is important to Indian Country: the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women emergency, protection of tribal lands and waters, tribal self-determination, upholding our treaty rights, and recognizing our inherent right to self-govern.

The past few years have seen increased interest in Native American rights. The fight for tribal sovereignty is not a new one. The history of broken treaties, forced removal and land takings is well documented. Through it all we have fought to preserve our right to self-government. Recent controversies between tribes and states have highlighted the need for increased government-to-government communication, with the understanding that we are sovereign nations with our own unique histories and interests.

Tribal self-reliance is at stake in the 2020 election. The federal government’s recognition of tribal rights and its duty to uphold treaty law is at stake.

For the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (MHA Nation) of North Dakota, we know we are allied in this fight with numerous other tribes; each nation seeking to preserve self-determination.

As Chairman of the Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, my focus is on regaining self-sufficiency and decreasing dependence on the federal government. To be clear, we value the federal-trust relationship. We in the MHA Nation work diligently to grow our economy and address our peoples’ needs with the resources we have left. At the same time, we must hold the United States to its responsibility to protect and support our government and resources. To this end, we have sought the return of land and taxation rights in order to revitalize our traditional agricultural practices and economic vitality.

As a result of the prolific oil and gas development in the Bakken Region, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation has seen rapid economic growth. Our homeland lies in the very heart of the Bakken oil play. Since the massive energy development began in 2008, we have worked to build better lives for our people and the generations to come.

We are currently working to diversify our economy and financial interests. We have turned the reservation’s 4 Bears recreation area into a destination resort. We have begun the process of regaining food sovereignty through harnessing natural gas to power greenhouses. We, like dozens of other tribes, are working to rebuild after centuries of broken treaties, disease epidemics, and failed U.S. policy

Currently, we are reminding the Trump administration of their obligation to recognize and uphold our rights to the minerals beneath the Missouri River. Since 1825, the U.S. government has declared time and time again that, within the Fort Berthold Reservation, the riverbed minerals belong to the MHA Nation. This requires that treaty law and the United States’ trust responsibility is justly acknowledged and upheld. The U.S. government must recognize our territorial sovereignty and right to manage and protect our own resources, including the Missouri River within the boundaries of our reservation.

Whoever the next president is has a solemn duty to uphold inherent tribal sovereignty, Native treaties and the trust responsibility.

Representation matters. Recognition matters. We were thrilled to see Native Americans elected to state and national political positions in the last election. We want to see this trend continue. And we’re glad candidates will be discussing Native issues specifically in Sioux City. Let’s hope that discussion is but a beginning.

Our futures are at stake in the coming election. 

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Mark N. Fox is chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation. Follow updates from Chairman Fox and the MHA Nation @MHANation1825 and OurRiverOurHome.com

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