United Tribes News Speech Archives

Reflections on the Relationships: Tribes and state

by David M. Gipp, President
United Tribes Technical College
First Nations Day
October 10, 2008
North Dakota Heritage Center

Today I want to reflect on the relationship between the state of North Dakota and the Tribal Nations within our state, and what that relationship means to Tribal citizens today, in 2008, during one of the most important elections years in the history of the United States.

History gives us some guidance of where we have been and what we can now expect to accomplish.

David M. Gipp
David M. Gipp, President, UTTC

On the screen is a photograph taken in Fort Yates, North Dakota, in November 1917. This photograph appeared in the Sioux County Pioneer newspaper that was published in that period. Pictured in the photo are Lakota and Dakota Tribal citizens from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as well as Major James McLaughlin who had once been the "Indian Agent" at Fort Yates. They are participating in a ceremony that was touted as a "U.S. citizenship" ceremony that Major McLaughlin created for the occasion.

Major McLaughlin had delivered to each of the Tribal citizens shown in the photo a "patent," which meant that these individuals had just given up the trust status of their lands that were allotted to them under the 1887 Allotment Act. Trust status meant that the lands they owned were owned by the United States government for their benefit. Giving up that status meant that the Tribal citizens would own the land outright and be subject to property taxes like other state citizens.

Giving up trust status meant that these individuals could automatically become U.S. citizens under the U.S. Constitution. Prior to 1924, under the U.S. Constitution, Indians "not taxed" were NOT eligible for U.S. Citizenship. In 1924 all Indians, regardless of their status as "not taxed" Indians became U.S. Citizens and were supposed to be eligible to vote in state and Federal elections.

But what that meant to the Tribe is that the Tribe and its citizens lost more of its land on the Standing Rock reservation to non-Indians. Eventually, much of the "fee patent" land that these individuals obtained in that ceremony of Major McLaughlin's was sold to white people, something that Major McLaughlin recommended these new "U.S. citizens" do.

Citizenship Celebration Ft. Yates 1917
Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota

In other words, the act of becoming a U.S. Citizen for these individuals meant loss of land and giving up the ways of their Tribal nation. That is the symbol of the arrow being shot into the sky... the "last arrow."

Tribal nations have had to fight many times to preserve sovereignty and tribal nation status. Under the so-called P.L. 280 law, the state of North Dakota had the right to exercise sovereignty over the tribal nations in our state. Through the effort of courageous tribal leaders, that effort of the state was defeated in the early 1960s. Now, the state cannot take over jurisdiction over the reservations unless the people of the reservations ask the state to do that.

Today, Tribal citizens cherish the trust status of their land and are seeking to recover lands on the reservations lost to non-Indians. As Tribal nations rebuild their land base, they also strive to make sovereignty respected by the state and its citizens. Today we have state leadership that works with our tribal leaders to protect the sovereign status of tribes.

This is now the 21st century standard to which we all should ascribe, so that all can prosper, economically, socially and politically. This will allow our young people, who are now the majority of the citizens of our Tribal Nations, to be a vital part of the state's efforts at economic development. We have seen examples: the new agreement on tribal and state hunting rights, and the new agreements on tax sharing that several tribes had entered into with the state of North Dakota.

But, least we forget, the photograph reminds us of how important it is to understand our rights in a free society, and how difficult it is for Native Americans, as a relatively small minority, to protect our rights to our land, our resources, our language and our culture, and to protect our rights to have a future based on our tribal sovereignty, our culture and our resources.

Each of us here today has a responsibility to vote, to participate in the political process and to help educate those who are not here that Tribal Nations have a right to exist and that they exist because of the political relationship between the state and the Tribal Nations guaranteed by the United States constitution.

If we do not participate, if we do not vote, how can we argue that the state is harming us? By participating, we claim our rightful stake in the future of North Dakota. As Tribal citizens, we live under three constitutions state, federal and tribal. We expect the state to treat us equitably, so that we are treated as state citizens wherever we live within the state of North Dakota.

It is our future, as Tribal citizens of our Tribal Nations and as North Dakota citizens, just as much as it is the future of other North Dakota citizens. Together, we can do what Sitting Bull envisioned for his Lakota and Dakota Nation an effort that recognized that it would be necessary for the State and the Tribal Nations to work together to accomplish, as he said "what we can do for our children."

Our relationship is now intertwined in ways Sitting Bull could not have imagined. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to continue to work to improve that relationship and the understanding that must go with that relationship. We owe it to each other to continue to work to improve our educational system so that the cultures of our Tribal nations are integrated fully into the curriculum taught in our schools.

We are in these efforts together. Together we can create the environment that allows our State and Tribal nations to live in a permanent spirit of friendship and cooperation.

Thank you so much.