BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today welcomed tribal members and other attendees to the fourth Strengthening Government to Government Partnerships and Relationships Conference, highlighting progress made through collaboration between the state and North Dakota’s tribal nations over the last two years and outlining challenges and opportunities to address in the upcoming legislative session and beyond.
“While we’ve made great progress in the last five and a half years, we know that this is just the beginning,” Burgum, who has prioritized tribal partnerships as one of his five strategic initiatives, said during his keynote address. “There are gaps that still exist, and we also understand that no two tribal nations are the same. Each has got different needs, whether it’s transportation, employment, emergency services, law enforcement, health care, education, economic development, tax agreements, or fighting the scourge of drugs, everybody’s different. But we’ve all got things in common. … We’ve got abundant resources, we’ve got people who care. We can together tackle even the biggest challenges that might be in front of us.”
About 250 people registered for the two-day conference, which was first held in January 2018 and was last held in January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Dakota. Tribal leaders and elders, state agency leaders and staff, statewide elected officials and legislators are among those attending the conference. The North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission office, led by Executive Director Nathan Davis, is hosting the conference at the Bismarck Event Center. Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum are among the conference speakers.
The governor shared his gratitude for the ongoing partnership and collaboration by the chairs of the five tribal nations that share geography with North Dakota: Chairman Jamie Azure of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Chairman Doug Yankton of Spirit Lake Nation, Chairwoman Janet Alkire of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Chairman Mark Fox of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation, and Chairman Delbert Hopkins of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate.
Burgum highlighted the progress made since the last conference, including:
- The North Dakota Highway Patrol entered an agreement with the MHA Nation to enhance emergency response on the Fort Berthold Reservation. The agreement, signed by Burgum and Fox, allows the closest available peace officer to respond to an emergency call for service until the agency with primary jurisdiction arrives and assumes the lead. The agreement to allow mutual aid across reservation boundaries was made possible by legislation signed in 2019 and 2021. A similar agreement with Spirit Lake Nation will be signed at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday during the second day of the conference.
- Burgum signed legislation providing a framework for the state and MHA Nation to share tax revenue from oil wells that straddle the boundary of the Fort Berthold Reservation, settling an unresolved issue from the state’s historic 2019 tax agreement with MHA.
- The North Dakota National Guard finished signing memorandums of agreement with all five tribal colleges in North Dakota to make the State Tuition Assistance program available to qualified student service members attending college.
- Burgum also signed legislation to allow North Dakota Information Technology to enter into agreements with tribes and other government entities to assist with cybersecurity incident response, and to allow the state Department of Transportation to enter into agreements with tribal governments to assist with federally funded safety improvement projects on tribal-owned highways, streets, roads and bridges.
- The Highway Patrol created and implemented a five-member criminal interdiction team that focuses on drug and human trafficking and other criminal activity occurring on roadways in the state. The team is tasked with working closely with tribal law enforcement to intercept illegal substances destined for North Dakota reservations.
The governor outlined challenges and opportunities that have been identified with the Indian Affairs Commission office and other cabinet agencies as issues to address during the 2023 legislative session and beyond, including enhancing access to primary and emergency care; eliminating food deserts; reducing barriers to accessing capital; tribal gaming; expanding law enforcement, cybersecurity and tax-sharing agreements; and growing tribal tourism. Other conference topics include maximizing funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, drug force task force expansion and increasing behavioral health services for tribal communities.
“We’ve got to challenge ourselves to do the things that we’re talking about, including to really listen to each other,” Burgum said. “And part of that can be part of the healing that has to occur, to achieve a greater understanding of our shared history. … We, right here in this room, working together, can leave a legacy of understanding, empathy and mutual respect.”