Editorial: Speech by tribal leaders should go on
Relations between the state of North Dakota and its American Indian nations in the modern era have never been as strained as they are now. Tensions from the ongoing demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline-backed by the state but vehemen...
Today's issue: Legislative leaders canceled a speech to be given by a North Dakota tribal leader.
Our position: Canceling the speech for security reasons sends wrong messages; the speech should be revived.
Relations between the state of North Dakota and its American Indian nations in the modern era have never been as strained as they are now. Tensions from the ongoing demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline-a project backed by the state but vehemently opposed by the tribes-have seriously frayed important relationships. So the decision by legislative leaders to cancel the customary State of the Tribal-State Relations Address to lawmakers sends precisely the wrong message at a very fraught moment in history. We should be trying to open doors to dialogue, not slamming them shut.
The decision, supported by a mere 10 members of a steering group called Legislative Management-and opposed by three others-is shockingly wrongheaded and should be reversed. House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, made the motion to cancel the address, along with the State of the Judiciary speech, on the basis of security concerns. The Capitol has been placed on lockdown several times because of protests by pipeline opponents who were taking their grievances to state government.
Security and legislative decorum are valid concerns, given the disruptive protests that have taken place inside the Capitol. But instead of calling in tribal leaders in advance to discuss those concerns, Carlson and his like-minded fellow leaders, after meeting with the Highway Patrol, which handles Capitol security, canceled the speech. The address, which rotates among top tribal leaders, has been a legislative tradition for the past 16 biennial legislative sessions.
It's hard to imagine a more important time for lawmakers to hear from tribal leaders than now. Canceling the speech sends a message that the state doesn't respect the tribes and is willing to offend them for reasons of expediency. It sends another embarrassing and unfortunate message: the state can be cowed by boisterous free speech.
Again, we should be opening doors to dialogue, not slamming them shut. We should be figuring out security arrangements so a beneficial and longstanding legislative tradition can go on. We should not act like frightened children.
Unfortunately state leaders, starting with Gov. Jack Dalrymple, have not been engaged in trying to ease tensions with the tribes. State officials have spoken of the need for the pipeline, but have not acknowledged the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's concerns about the pipeline's threat to its water supply. Dalrymple now has an opportunity to display leadership. He should consult with tribal leaders, legislative leaders and law enforcement officials to find a way for the 17th State of the Tribal-State Relations Address to be heard when the Legislature convenes in January. Failing that, Doug Burgum, who becomes governor on Dec. 15 should do so. The speech should go on.