ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Opportunity for dialogue squandered

When a Minot, N.D., man was banished from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in early May for his online article that called for elimination of the reservation system, it did more to discredit the tribal council than it did Rob Port, whose article a...

When a Minot, N.D., man was banished from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in early May for his online article that called for elimination of the reservation system, it did more to discredit the tribal council than it did Rob Port, whose article also appeared in the Dakota Beacon, a conservative publication from Bismarck.

The Minot Daily News reported, "Port's article stirred outrage among many members of the tribe because of his description of squalid living conditions and people living 'selfish lives full of self-gratification and little achievement while the government subsidizes them.'"

It's easy to see why Port's article created hard feelings, but his views are not the first in that vein and they won't be the last. There may even be members of the tribe that have similar feelings.

Provocative language can be unpleasant and it can be miles off base, but a knee jerk reaction like the ban can be misconstrued, too. Some may think, "thou doth protest too much." At any rate, a real opportunity to educate and refute any misconceptions is squandered.

We are just a few generations removed from genocide, broken treaties and a wholesale attempt to eliminate the culture of American Indians, and most white Americans don't understand the sense of community and role in keeping a culture alive reservations have played. Plenty of folks know - or think they do - about high rates of suicide, alcoholism, unemployment and other problems on the reservation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Why not use this opportunity to tell the story from the perspective of the tribe?

From a First Amendment standpoint, banishment is a huge mistake. America has always benefited from debate even when the other side has seemed wrong and even repugnant in their beliefs. Free and open discourse is so necessary, we must remind ourselves occasionally, that hearing misinformed and even mean-spirited speech from time to time is a small price to pay for free speech for all.

Banishment may keep Rob Port out, but it won't keep opinions like his from circulating. Of course, the reservation has problems, and maybe there are no easy answers, but debate will move things forward. Stifling opinions won't.

Debate often makes us wiser and sometimes changes hearts and minds. In this case, the tribal council ought to consider changing theirs. They have the floor if they so choose. We would like to hear what they have to say.

Bender, Ashley, N.D., is editor/publisher of two weekly newspapers and president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association.

What To Read Next
As Gov. Burgum, others rattle their sabers, Minnesota Democrats believe new law doesn't violate U.S. Constitution
North Dakota's judges rank near the bottom in pay and salaries aren't enough to attrack lawyers from private practice to serve on the bench.
SB 2301, supported by (GASP!) Democrats, is the best solution on the table in Bismarck
A couple of bills introduced quietly would help feed students in public schools