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JoVonne Wagner
Buffalo's Fire

MISSOULA, Mont.– Carol Good Bear of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation discussed her campaign on absentee ballots, tribal government transparency and matriarchal values during a public online meeting in early September.

The Zoom meeting, arranged by the Fort Berthold Legacy Vision organization, provided the opportunity for citizens of the MHA Nation to ask the candidate questions about her campaign goals and proposed solutions. Good Bear is one of the five candidates officially registered to run for the tribe’s chairman position. She is the only woman running to lead the tribe.

One of the issues discussed during the session involved voting rights of tribal citizens who live off the Fort Berthold Reservation. Good Bear shared her message for a true democracy that includes every enrolled citizen's input, despite their status of tribal residency.

Off-reservation voters, or nonresident voters, as defined in the Three Affiliated Tribes election ordinance, must vote in-person on the election date to be “entitled for a vote,” as stated in the ordinance’s voter registration qualifications.

“We are the victims of historical forced migration beginning with the Removal Act of 1830 and all succeeding wars,” said Good Bear. “We cannot be our worst enemy by denying tribal members their right to be heard, which is a fundamental right.”

(Related: Former Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation chairman enters race)

Overall, the Three Affiliated Tribes has a total of 16,986 enrolled citizens, according to the tribe’s website, with approximately 4,387 citizens living on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota.

This means when it comes time for political races, amendments and other decisions that need to be voted on by the community, 73 percent of the total tribal population live off reservation. The majority of off reservation voters must return to vote. Under extenuating circumstances, some can cast an absentee vote.

Listening with the audience was Three Affiliated Tribes citizen, Joletta Birdbear. She brought up off-reservation voting and the right for all citizens to participate in their government. She asked Good Bear if she supported the push to restore voting rights for nonresidents.

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“We need a fair and democratic voting process and it should be developed in a foolproof manner so that all eligible tribal members have the right to vote,” said Good Bear during the meeting, “By being inclusive I believe the MHA Nation will be stronger based on the collective wisdom of voters.”

Another tribal citizen who joined the Zoom call shared she and seven other citizens plan to travel from Chicago and Wisconsin to Fort Berthold so they can cast their ballots. “That's quite a ways to go to put our vote in, and that's just the primary,” the caller said in the meeting.

Good Bear said she chose to run for the chairman's seat in hopes to establish communication between the tribal government and community members it serves. The goal is to improve the public's awareness of all actions and compliances within tribal government. Good Bear said she would demand open meetings and hearings. She also is calling for mandatory auditor’s reports as a proposed solution to keep the public informed.

As a candidate, Good Bear is relying on her previous experience working in state and federal political environments. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Mary. She worked in Washington D.C. from 1990-1992 as a tribal political consultant. Good Bear said it helped her navigate the federal tribal law process of Congress.

“So I learned a lot in D.C. and that was vital and crucial to what I am ready to embark upon,” Good Bear told Buffalo’s Fire. “You need to know where to go. You need to know who to talk to when you go to Capitol Hill, you need to know which door to open.

When you get in that room, if you speak to that national leader, you need to know what to say. Advocate for your people.”

The candidate lives in New Town, N.D. She is a child of the Knife Clan. Good Bear is a mother, and grandmother. She told Buffalo’s Fire she doesn’t view herself as a traditional politician. She sees herself more as a “mom in moccasins” who aims to bring traditional values to her leadership position.

“I am a matriarch who helps my family and my core platform has to do with bringing in our culture, bringing it back to the servant leadership that the people need and the people deserve,” Good Bear said.

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The Primary elections for the MHA Nation will be held September 20. For any question concerning polling locations or the election, contact the Tribal Election Board at (701) 627-6135.