BISMARCK — On the first day of the new North Dakota legislative session, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Chairman Mark Fox walked lawmakers through the tribal nation's history and urged both entities to work together.

Fox's message on Tuesday, Jan. 5, was primarily one of unity, and began with a traditional group prayer and ceremony, where many of the lawmakers had their hands on their hearts.

Fox highlighted how COVID-19 has affected the tribe and said that many people, both old and young, have died from the coronavirus. Standing on the House floor in the Capitol in Bismarck, Fox urged lawmakers to keep pushing to maintain COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including a mask mandate, as the state's decisions impact the five tribal nations in North Dakota.

"We're so heavily intertwined with the state that anything the state does directly impacts us on Indian reservations," Fox said to the representatives. "...Your mitigation policies, if you alleviate those or don't utilize those, we suffer as well."

On Monday, Jan. 4, Gov. Doug Burgum announced he was lowering the state's COVID-19 risk level, which will allow for more patrons to visit bars and restaurants starting at 8 a.m. Friday, Jan. 8.

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Addressing a room filled primarily with white people, Fox said it was time to put in more efforts to overcome racism. He said the 2020 presidential election further emphasized the divide that exists among many people, but now is the time to work together to end racism.

"Racism is an ugly word, but it exists. Make no doubt in your mind," Fox said.

Gov. Doug Burgum and first lady Kathryn Burgum were in attendance for Fox's speech, as well as Fox's young son Eli, with whom the tribal chairman posed after his speech.

"We first have to understand that we are different, Native and non-Native people are different," Fox said. "But respect those differences."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.