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N.D. governor, tribe hold five-hour meeting at Standing Rock

N.D. governor, tribe hold five-hour meeting at Standing Rock

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FORT YATES, N.D. — Gov. Doug Burgum sat down with tribal and camp leaders for five hours at the Prairie Knights Casino Wednesday night in what participants saw as a gesture of good faith from the new leadership.

"The governor listened to our concerns, and that goes a long way in showing his willingness to listen and learn ... from all sides, how we can help and rebuild and move forward," said Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II. "This has been very trying on everybody."

It was significant to many participants that the meeting took place in Fort Yates — a decision made by Burgum — and a step former Gov. Jack Dalrymple did not take during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

Attendees included current and former Standing Rock tribal council members, tribal elders, Oceti Sakowin camp headsmen, officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, North Dakota Highway Patrol Col. Michael Gerhardt Jr., Indian Affairs Commission Executive Director Scott Davis and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford.

The meeting, which lasted from 7 p.m. to midnight, was mostly a listening session for the governor, participants said. They wanted him to hear about the broken treaties with the Sioux people, what the Backwater Bridge closure was costing the tribe and their fears that President Donald Trump would forcibly remove the protesters.

Archambault said he told the governor specifically, "if the president wants to use federal force, to let us know. We don't want anyone to be hurt. That's the nerve-wracking part, because he's making rash decisions."

Some also asked the governor to take meaningful steps to assist the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Most notably, they want the Backwater Bridge on N.D. Highway 1806 re-opened.

"The state needs to work with us first," said Cannon Ball Tribal Councilman Cody Two Bears, whose constituents say the closure affects their access to key medical services.

Though no concrete plans came out of the meeting, Gov. Doug Burgum said in an interview that he asked the Morton County Sheriff, North Dakota Highway Patrol, North Dakota National Guard and Morton County Commission on Thursday to draft a plan for a phased re-opening of the bridge.

Concerned about an impending flood, Burgum said he would also advocate with the Army Corps of Engineers, if needed.

"We want to work with Chairman Archambault and the camp leaders and try to figure out a way to reduce the level of conflict and, at the same time, solve the public safety issues we have relative to the flood," Burgum said. "How do we take steps together?"

Manape LaMere, an Oceti Sakowin camp headsman, said he told the governor he understood there are strategic reasons to keep the bridge closed: That way protesters do not camp or linger in the snowy ditches where the protests began just north. But he contends use of the road and access to the site would be valuable enough to constrain that behavior.

"If everybody is concerned about protesters approaching the entrance, that puts the burden on us. We wouldn't want to jeopardize that," LaMere said.

As the night grew later, conversation turned away from the protest to longer-term issues facing the tribe, including drug addiction, jobs, housing and the economy on the reservation.

"I’m looking to a point beyond when the protest camps are done," Burgum said.

Davis said he hopes this will lead to better communication, "making sure nobody is blindsided by what the state or tribe does."

"People down there want to be heard," Davis said. "When people get heard, it gains some respect. It gains some trust."


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