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North Dakota tribes hold summit to strategize

BISMARCK, N.D. ñ The tribes of North Dakota and tribal program officials from surrounding states recently gathered, as their ancestors did for hundreds of years, to discuss issues, strategize about the future and celebrate after a long summer.

ìThis summit is similar to old days in the summer, when people would come together, meet and perform; and also for spirituality. These gatherings have taken place from time immemorial,î said Ken Davis, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

The United Tribes of North Dakota packaged this yearís summit with seven other conferences and the pow wow at the United Tribes Technical College for the first time. The United Tribes has held a summit each of the past 10 years while other conferences had been held in different locations. This year more than 1,000 people came together in one location.

ìThis summit is how we will voice opinions in one voice,î said Ron His Horse is Thunder, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

The theme of the summit was ìas long as the grass grows and the water flows.î Even though that statement is not part of any treaty, it was spoken by President Andrew Jackson when he tried to convince American Indians to vacate the eastern part of the country. He said the American Indians could have the land of the West, as long as the grass grows and the water flows. This statement is taken by tribes to mean that they have rights in perpetuity. Mostly the rights were guaranteed by treaty.

It is especially appropriate that the United Tribes Intertribal Council Summit opened with a discussion on water rights and quantification of water for the reservations. Quantification of water rights has been talked about for many years between states and tribes and with the federal government.

The summit covered more topics than water. Sovereignty, education, health care, current and pending legislation, the Cobell settlement bill and appropriations shared the platform.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., who with his staff spent a lot of time at the summit, said he recognized that work at the summit was important and that it offered an opportunity to ìdiscuss things as friends. We work hard at making progress even though we are moving forward with baby steps,î Pomeroy said.

He added that it was because of the tribal leadership that progress had been made in many areas.

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and his staff, along with the staff members of Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, spent time listening to the tribal leaders in general sessions and one-on-one.

Dorgan was not in attendance, but spoke to the attendees by video. Sarah Garland, minority staff director, did speak to the gathering, and the political atmosphere fluctuated between health care and the Cobell settlement bill.

ìIt would be wonderful if Dorgan was chairman of the [Senate Committee on Indian Affairs] and of the subcommittee on Interior appropriations,î Garland said.

Dorgan is now the vice chairman of the committee and subcommittee; if the Democrats become the majority party, he would be elevated to the top positions.

ìThe Great Plains will be seen and heard on a national level, with Dorgan presenting a different kind of agenda with issues that effect the reservations on a daily basis,î Garland said.

Legislation that Dorgan considers important is the reauthorization of the Indian Health Improvement Act and the Cobell settlement bill. Garland said the Bush administration was not interested in the health improvement act and work was under way to figure out how to get that bill out of the Senate and passed this year.

Pomeroy said the health bill needed reauthorization because it gives more control to the tribes. He also supports a settlement of the Cobell case.

ìThe Department of Interior made a total hash of the trust. Ö I donít know how much was lost, but the federal government canít prove you wrong; I want a resolution,î Pomeroy said.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said that a settlement would not close the book on the mismanagement of the Individual Indian Money accounts. ìThe system is still broken.

ìWe have 40 percent of all allotted land and we donít have adequate staff to protect it. Without staff, the trust responsibility is breached,î Hall said.

Of major concern is the appropriations budget for 2008. Negotiations are under way for the 2008 fiscal year while 2007 has yet to be settled. Both Hall and Davis are on the Tribal Budget Advisory Committee.

ìBeing on the committee gives me the feeling we are sleeping with the enemy, but the good thing is we do pillow talk.

ìThen we can go to Congress and say we knew Johnson OíMalley would be cut and we can get it restored,î he said, using JOM funds for education as an example of cuts found in the administrationís budget proposals.

BISMARCK, N.D. ñ The tribes of North Dakota and tribal program officials from surrounding states recently gathered, as their ancestors did for hundreds of years, to discuss issues, strategize about the future and celebrate after a long summer. ìThis summit is similar to old days in the summer, when people would come together, meet and perform; and also for spirituality. These gatherings have taken place from time immemorial,î said Ken Davis, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.The United Tribes of North Dakota packaged this yearís summit with seven other conferences and the pow wow at the United Tribes Technical College for the first time. The United Tribes has held a summit each of the past 10 years while other conferences had been held in different locations. This year more than 1,000 people came together in one location.ìThis summit is how we will voice opinions in one voice,î said Ron His Horse is Thunder, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The theme of the summit was ìas long as the grass grows and the water flows.î Even though that statement is not part of any treaty, it was spoken by President Andrew Jackson when he tried to convince American Indians to vacate the eastern part of the country. He said the American Indians could have the land of the West, as long as the grass grows and the water flows. This statement is taken by tribes to mean that they have rights in perpetuity. Mostly the rights were guaranteed by treaty.It is especially appropriate that the United Tribes Intertribal Council Summit opened with a discussion on water rights and quantification of water for the reservations. Quantification of water rights has been talked about for many years between states and tribes and with the federal government.The summit covered more topics than water. Sovereignty, education, health care, current and pending legislation, the Cobell settlement bill and appropriations shared the platform.Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., who with his staff spent a lot of time at the summit, said he recognized that work at the summit was important and that it offered an opportunity to ìdiscuss things as friends. We work hard at making progress even though we are moving forward with baby steps,î Pomeroy said.He added that it was because of the tribal leadership that progress had been made in many areas. North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and his staff, along with the staff members of Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, spent time listening to the tribal leaders in general sessions and one-on-one.Dorgan was not in attendance, but spoke to the attendees by video. Sarah Garland, minority staff director, did speak to the gathering, and the political atmosphere fluctuated between health care and the Cobell settlement bill.ìIt would be wonderful if Dorgan was chairman of the [Senate Committee on Indian Affairs] and of the subcommittee on Interior appropriations,î Garland said.Dorgan is now the vice chairman of the committee and subcommittee; if the Democrats become the majority party, he would be elevated to the top positions.ìThe Great Plains will be seen and heard on a national level, with Dorgan presenting a different kind of agenda with issues that effect the reservations on a daily basis,î Garland said.Legislation that Dorgan considers important is the reauthorization of the Indian Health Improvement Act and the Cobell settlement bill. Garland said the Bush administration was not interested in the health improvement act and work was under way to figure out how to get that bill out of the Senate and passed this year.Pomeroy said the health bill needed reauthorization because it gives more control to the tribes. He also supports a settlement of the Cobell case.ìThe Department of Interior made a total hash of the trust. Ö I donít know how much was lost, but the federal government canít prove you wrong; I want a resolution,î Pomeroy said.Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said that a settlement would not close the book on the mismanagement of the Individual Indian Money accounts. ìThe system is still broken.ìWe have 40 percent of all allotted land and we donít have adequate staff to protect it. Without staff, the trust responsibility is breached,î Hall said.Of major concern is the appropriations budget for 2008. Negotiations are under way for the 2008 fiscal year while 2007 has yet to be settled. Both Hall and Davis are on the Tribal Budget Advisory Committee.ìBeing on the committee gives me the feeling we are sleeping with the enemy, but the good thing is we do pillow talk.ìThen we can go to Congress and say we knew Johnson OíMalley would be cut and we can get it restored,î he said, using JOM funds for education as an example of cuts found in the administrationís budget proposals.