BISMARCK – Gov. Doug Burgum and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault met Monday to begin establishing direct communication between leadership with the goal of building trust and normalizing relations between the state and tribe.
Chairman Archambault, Vice Chairman Jesse McLaughlin, Gov. Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford spent more than two hours discussing the history of treaties and Native American policies, opportunities for collaboration and mutual interest in a peaceful resolution to the Dakota Access Pipeline situation. The leaders, who all have school-age children, also talked about their shared desire to build a better future for all.
“Yesterday, we met with the intention of beginning to restore the relationship between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the State of North Dakota. While many topics were discussed, we agreed to initiate our collaboration on the inspection of the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “Weather and safety conditions permitting, the North Dakota Department of Transportation will begin taking core samples from the bridge Thursday to determine the extent of the damage, and until we know the results and conduct a safety assessment, the bridge will remain closed.”
The bridge has been closed since Oct. 27 because of safety concerns due to stress related to the protest. The NDDOT will take core samples from the bridge and send them to an out-of-state lab to be evaluated. Results from the lab are expected within approximately 30 days, at which time the NDDOT will know more about the bridge’s condition and whether repairs are needed.
To ensure a good-faith process, an observer from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s public works department will monitor the bridge testing and independent press will be allowed to observe. The event also will be live-streamed.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has agreed to assist the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and North Dakota Highway Patrol.
A collaborative and phased approach to reopening the bridge would allow more direct routes for emergency vehicles and enable commerce between Bismarck-Mandan and southern Morton County and Sioux County.
“Together, we remain committed to the safety of all involved. We urge people to stay away from the bridge and let the NDDOT conduct these tests,” the leaders said. “We ask that all parties respect the workers while they are conducting the tests, and any interference in these activities will result in immediate cancellation of the test.”