Tom Bird Bear, Politician

Page 13 of 14

Persistent Issues

Hello. My name is Tom Bird Bear, and I'm a member of the Tribal Business Council with the Three Affiliated Tribes. I'd like to welcome everyone to Fort Berthold and the Three Tribes. What I'll be talking about today is the tribal government and some of the areas related to the historic journey of Lewis and Clark two centuries ago.

I grew up here on the reservation, from a farming and ranching background. I joined the service and went into the U.S. Army after high school. I attended college, and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from the University of North Dakota. I have a law degree from the law school there at the University. And today, I'm a licensed attorney and an attorney-at-law. But for now the tribal government takes up the majority of my time in terms of practice.

What we do today in tribal government is so related to the bicentennial in terms of President Jefferson in 1803, and his instructions to Lewis and Clark as they journeyed westward to this new country. I think it's significant at this time, 200 years later, that the president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, continues the relationship, and continues the recognition of tribal nations as sovereign entities. As part of his Executive Order of 1998, he points out that in treaties the United States has guaranteed the right of Indian tribes to self-govern, and I think that is so significant today, when you look at the history of our tribe from the point of contact with Lewis and Clark and, really, a couple of centuries of challenges, of devastation, and of coming back from that to where we're at today.

I think it is significant that Lewis and Clark, in their journey, came through this area. They came through the Missouri River. Through unfortunate circumstances about fifty years ago, through the flood, Lake Sakakawea was created. But we still have a number of historic sites, and points of interest, along the area that we have without our jurisdiction. Its those areas like Pouch Point, Reunion Bay, and various others, that we are certainly interested in promoting with the bicentennial issues, promoting as far as tourism, and that's really where we're seeing the two things come together with history in terms of our casino expansion, and how we want to see economic development succeed on Fort Berthold, and the ideas and all of the positive things coming out of the bicentennial and the Lewis and Clark journey.

You know, gaming as a separate issue, as an economic issue. . . . Gaming arose out of the 1988 statute passed by Congress, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. It set forth the authority, and so forth, of the tribes to conduct various forms of gaming. It's important for our tribe here and, I think, tribes nationwide, because of the historic problems and chronic issues associated with poverty, and so forth, in really trying to get an economic development engine prepared and started everywhere.

I think that, too often, that's something that is not highlighted, or that is not given enough attention by the major media, by non-tribal elected officials, and there's really a tide against what is perceived as the tribes' unfair advantage, and so forth.

However, what we're dealing with is a limited marked. We are a rural area. Some tribes enjoy a better status than we do. But nonetheless I think, uniformly almost, in fact, the tribes that deal with and are involved with gaming, they tend to provide the services, the better level of services that they can to their members, that the rest of the country is used to, but that we haven't seen. So it's a matter where we're attempting to get on a level playing field, and the successes that we enjoy, and the expansion that we would like to see, are only a beginning, really.