BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford today joined leaders of the five tribal nations that share geography with North Dakota for a ceremony honoring and celebrating their tribal flags, now on display in the state Capitol for the first time as directed by the governor during his State of the State address on Jan. 3.
Burgum expressed his deep gratitude for those who packed Memorial Hall for the ceremony, including tribal leaders, Supreme Court justices, legislators and other elected officials, military veterans, flag bearers and the Lake Region Singers from Spirit Lake Nation.
“Especially for those tribal members that are here today … I want to say welcome to you, because this is your Capitol, too,” said Burgum, who has made strengthening tribal partnerships one his five strategic initiatives.
“We’re on a journey, and that journey has a lot of small steps, and a lot of progress has been made in the last two years to build understanding about the rich and important history that the tribes have in North Dakota,” Burgum said, calling the tribal flags displayed in Memorial Hall outside the Governor’s Office “a powerful and important symbol.”
The governor thanked Sen. Richard Marcellais of Belcourt, an Army veteran and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, for organizing the ceremony with Indian Affairs Commission Executive Director Scott Davis and his team. Marcellais called it a historic event.
Representatives from all five tribal nations delivered remarks, explaining the history and significance of their respective flags and the strong tradition of military service among American Indians, who serve in the armed forces at a higher rate per capita than any other ethnic group.
Chairman Mark Fox of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation said it was “a significant step to working together.”
“All the time we’ve spent in trying to communicate and further joint cooperation amongst the nations and with the state of North Dakota has been awesome,” Fox said.
Spirit Lake Chairwoman Myra Pearson asked those in attendance to “put your best foot forward and look forward to working with the people of the state, look forward to working with one another.”
“We all bleed red, and these flags here represent us – all of us, not just the native nations or the non-native nations. They represent all of us,” she said.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Mike Faith said working together in partnerships “is going to be the future for us here in North Dakota.” He noted many men and women who grew up on reservations were of different cultures.
“But they didn’t see that. They worked hard together, they lived together, they played together, they respected each other. And I think it’s that time again to get back into harmony of respecting each other in a good way,” he said, adding, “The road to recovery (is) not going to happen overnight. But I think working together, we can do that. Governor, I want to thank you for that, opening the door for us.”
Chairwoman Ella Robertson of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate said, “We are very honored to be here and to be asked to display our flag in the Capitol, recognizing us as a sovereign nation and the other tribes that are here as sovereign nations. I think that is very important for us as tribes and for what it represents for our people.”
Turtle Mountain Tribal Chairman Jamie Azure, who was unable to attend, called the flag display “monumental” when Burgum announced it Jan. 3. Tribal Council member Jim Baker spoke on behalf of the tribe at today’s ceremony, expressing his gratitude for the veterans and thanking Marcellais for advocating for the flags to be displayed at the Capitol. United Tribes Technical College President Leander “Russ” McDonald then blessed the flags with sage.
Closing out the ceremony, Burgum said, “Building on this mutual respect and greater understanding of each other’s cultures through important ceremonies like today, spending time together, we can have meaningful government-to-government relations that are more than just policy discussions. They can be built on the personal connections and the deeply shared belief that we all have common goals for ourselves, for our families and for our future generations.”
“With a small, symbolic step, we can take a big step forward,” he said.