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Letter: A new day for Native American representation in North Dakota

Azure and Yankton write, "The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and Spirit Lake Nation have come together to request that the legislature create a combined legislative district that contains our two tribal nations."

Letter to the editor FSA

North Dakota, like every other state, is going through the redistricting process, where new legislative district lines are drawn based on the new population numbers reported from the United States Census. On Nov. 8, the North Dakota Legislative Assembly will convene to consider the adoption of a new legislative district map for the state. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and Spirit Lake Nation have come together to request that the legislature create a combined legislative district that contains our two tribal nations.

Our tribal nations have shared interests, and this would be the first such legislative district of its kind for North Dakota. The state currently interacts with us as sister tribes in many respects. Sharing our voices in a combined legislative district is a logical step to maintain and ensure diligent representation in the state legislature that is responsive to the unique needs of our communities.

Early on in the redistricting process, tribal representatives requested that the legislative redistricting committee hold redistricting hearings on Indian reservations to hear from our communities, and specifically requested that the committee consult with Tribal Nations on this important endeavor. Regretfully, the committee chose not to hold any hearings near our communities nor formally consult with us on a government-to-government basis. As a result, the map the committee has developed is inadequate, and appears to violate redistricting laws.

North Dakota has not always treated our communities with the same respect that it has treated others in the state. For example, the State Supreme Court in 1920 in Swift v. Leach concluded that only those Native Americans who had assimilated were allowed to vote in elections because they were “civilized” and had “severed their tribal relations.” It was not until 1958 that this law was changed and we were allowed the right to vote.

We have many shared values – being federally recognized Indian Tribes is just one of them. We also live in the northern part of the state, and are only a little more than an hour’s drive away from each other. We wish to strengthen our inter-tribal relations, as well as our tribal-state relations. We come together now as Native Nations to respectfully ask that the Legislature create a legislative district for our communities, which will strengthen these relations.

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Providing our communities with a strong voice is the right thing to do. We, as Native people, but also citizens of this state, deserve to have a district with communities that have shared values, and also representatives that have shared values. We hope to create a new day for Native American representation in North Dakota.

Azure is chair of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Yankton is chair of the Spirit Lake Nation.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
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