By Lisa Lone Fight
Chairman Fox always starts off his weekly update by saying, “Our goal is to suffer less.” He voiced his concerns about COVID-19 positive case spikes around the United States, but is hopeful there will be better medicine in the near future. “We are seeing a strong push to see vaccines being put into play,” Chairman stated. “If we can have time on our side and mitigate a bit longer, we can take advantage of the vaccine and protect our children and elders.” Cases continue to rise in North Dakota and have been averaging 35 new positives per day. Chairman Fox is concerned about how to reopen the schools this fall. He mentioned being in contact with Kirsten Baesler, the North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We’ve been having good discussion and advocate very strongly that the schools will open later. We are looking to push it back to September 1, 2020 or have the option to homeschool until the vaccination is created. We should also make exception for children that have health issues, as they are more vulnerable to the virus,” Fox explained. “Our Task Force, medical team, and the Tribe itself worked hard to keep the case numbers low. We want to continue to mitigate, as that’s what kept our numbers low on Fort Berthold,” said the Chairman. “Being outside is a lot safer, although you should still social distance. It is more difficult to catch the virus when you are out in the open, although we need to be smart about how we do things. I am asking everyone on Fort Berthold to keep wearing their masks inside. When you have to go to public areas that are indoors, wear your mask. People may look down on you for wearing your mask, but many of those people do not care who they infect,” Fox explained. The Tribe will continue along with the mitigation measures they have put in place and are still testing daily at the Elbowoods Memorial Health Center. Fort Berthold has now tested over 1,000 people. Outdoor activities are always encouraged along with social distancing because the virus is still here.
Our Tribe lost about 80% of taxes and royalties when the oil prices crashed. Chairman Fox is hoping that oil will make a comeback and gain back the revenue lost. CARES Act funding, in Chairman’s opinion was not fairly funding tribes. Fox explained, “Members of the Tribe have been asking why the CARES Act funding is not going directly to the people. That is because of the losses suffered by the MHA Nation in April, May, and June. We are talking between $30-60 million in a 4-month period. We have been doing general welfare payments or disbursements for the last 7 years. Health insurance is provided with nearly 38 million dollars, with premiums needing to be paid. During a pandemic when we have losses in revenue, we need to make up for that loss so we can continue to provide programming, infrastructure, fix dilapidated houses, wakes and funerals, schools, community centers, and more.” The pandemic caused the MHA Nation to adjust their budget, and Chairman Fox will be posting our updated budgets and expenditures anticipated in July. The MHA Nation and its Tribal Business Council wants to continue providing services for the people all year long, but adjustments need to be made as these things cost money.
As Fort Berthold fights the pandemic and continues to fight for funding due to the oil crash, the Department of Interior issued a new M-Opinion explaining that the state of ND owns the riverbed under Lake Sakakawea. Now that the funds in escrow have met $100 million, the state decided that they own our land. Fox explained, “The message is clear. This has always been our land. We are going to continue to fight this riverbed issue. We are going to remember those who stood by us and those who stood against us. Though we may be a small tribal nation, we will stand solid, unified, and speak loudly. We support those who support us. They need to respect us, our land, our ownership, and respect our riverbed. We will make sure that it is loud and clear.”