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Diversity training for city employees begins months after sweat lodge 'misunderstanding'

A Native American sweat lodge as seen Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, off of 39th Street South in southwest Fargo. Ryan Johnson / The Forum

FARGO — All city of Fargo employees will soon take part in diversity training, following a request from Mayor Tim Mahoney after the arrest of an Anishinaabe man during a sweat lodge ceremony in late February.

However, leaders of the city's Native American Commission say they were not included in the planning process and were unaware that the training had been scheduled.

The mayor said this is because it's more of "a management issue" and that training has been expanded from cultural diversity to all forms of diversity including age, religion, sexuality and socio-economics.

Guy Fox, chairman of the Native American Commission, said the commission would have liked to have given input because "it's a partnership," adding that the commission could have contacted a Native American to assist with the training.

Michael Mitchell, Fargo's training and development coordinator, said the city hired the Village Business Institute to host the training. Twenty one-hour sessions will be offered from August to October, with the first one held this week.

The sessions are open-registration, and every city employee is encouraged to attend one, Mitchell said.

"A lot of it is going to be focusing on increasing our ability to work with people who are different than us," Mitchell said.

Robert Jones, an employee assistance program trainer at the Village Business Institute, helped develop the training and said it will "show the benefits of a diverse workforce. Not just religion and culture, but age, sexual orientations, socio-economics."

"We recognize that there's an advantage to having a diverse workforce," Jones said. "Every group and every individual has the ability to bring something to the workforce."

Mahoney said in late February that all city staff would be required to take cultural sensitivity training after Fargo Police Officer Jacob Rued arrested 20-year-old Zebadiah Gartner during a ceremony at the sweat lodge, a spiritual site established by the Native American Commission.

The lodge has been in its south Fargo location for several years, but Rued was unaware of it on Feb. 23 when he saw what appeared to be a large fire there. The fire is used to heat stones to heat the lodge.

Gartner allegedly refused Rued's order to sit in a squad car while the officer investigated the situation. When the officer put his arm on Gartner's arm, Gartner pulled away and told the officer not to touch him, court documents said.

Gartner was booked into the Cass County Jail for about three hours on charges of resisting a police officer. The charge was dismissed the next day, according to court documents.

Mahoney said the incident was a misunderstanding.

When asked why the training is necessary, Mahoney said, "the city of Fargo is an embracing city, and we want to make sure people feel comfortable here."

Mitchell said the plan is to continue the training in the future.

"Our vision is to have this either annually or biannually and supplement that with online-type training," he said.

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