The Dakota Access Pipeline protests created some hard feelings.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribes felt the situation was another example of their concerns and rights being ignored. Law enforcement officers were placed in potentially dangerous situations and, along with their families, had to endure social media abuse. Landowners reported livestock losses, vandalism and difficulties during harvest. Reservation residents and visitors encountered travel delays due to blockades, closed roads and protests.
Overall it was a tense several months and frustrations grew among all parties. That’s why an event held Saturday at the North Dakota Heritage Center by the Native American Development Center was important. It was a step toward reconciliation, an effort not to allow bad feelings to fester. A raw wound left untreated can prove fatal.
The discussion on Saturday involved leaders from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, an official from Morton County, a landowner on the pipeline route and representatives of the Bismarck business community. They were frank about their concerns, but at the same time expressed a desire for better relations.
Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II was right when he said the pipeline dispute exposed racism that had been under the surface. We need to confront those racial issues, discuss them in the open and find ways to deal with them. Meetings like Saturday’s can help us do that. Also helpful was Gov. Doug Burgum’s recent visits with the four tribal nations with tribal headquarters in the state. Burgum, the Public Service Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office also met with tribal representatives in an effort to improve relations. Burgum spent most of the day at Saturday’s event listening and taking part.
As more time passes since the end of the protests some of the anger should fade. It’s going to take time to resolve the remaining court cases, those involving protesters and the continuing attempts to stop the pipeline, but they don’t attract as much public attention.
Attempts at retribution won’t benefit anyone. Legislative efforts to pass bills that appeared to target protesters disappointed the tribes. Those who enjoyed going to the Prairie Knights Casino should resume their visits. The casino provides economic benefits to the Bismarck-Mandan community along with the reservation. Holding a grudge against the reservation isn’t healthy.
Morton County Commission Chairman Cody Schulz said reconciliation won’t happen without more discussions like Saturday's panel along with informal interactions and more education. "It's going to take effort," Schulz said.
One way to learn more about Native American culture is by attending the 48th annual United Tribes Powwow on Sept. 8-10. Every year they try to bring Bismarck-Mandan students to the powwow so they can experience the dancing and other events. As Chaska Moore, a senior at Standing Rock High School, said Saturday, he hopes someday people learn to see past race. If the people of the state continue to meet and talk, maybe the next controversy will focus on the issues and not involve race. It’s a great goal to pursue.