MHA Nation Tribal Chairman Mark Fox Shares a Dream of a New Future in North Dakota

By Logan J. Davis

For MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox, there have been many memorable days in his life and career as a tribal leader and another very special day occurred this week. On Tuesday, Chairman Fox had an opportunity to speak directly to North Dakota legislators as he delivered the State of the Tribes Address. Chairman Fox and his son were escorted into the chambers in a powerful opening ceremony by an MHA Nation Color Guard with traditional singers from the MHA Nation singing two honor songs. 

As his young son, Elijah Fox, sat in a special seat near the front of the podium, Chairman Fox created with carefully chosen words, a vision of how the tribes of North Dakota and the state can move forward and help each other. He stated that all of the tribes and the state of North Dakota can unite in ways that are critical and that can carve out a great future for generations to come. 

MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox gives the State of the Tribes Address

MHA Nation Color Guard stood at attention as traditonal songs echoed throughout the ND State Legislative Chambers

MHA Nation Chairman Mark Fox delivers a speech to North Dakota state and tribal leaders last week

From the moment Chairman Fox took the podium, he captured the attention of all. Governor Doug Burgum, North Dakota legislators, and other tribal leaders were all in attendance. As a United States Marine Corps veteran, he gave recognition to the military Honor Guard that led the escort into the House Chambers, the Little Shell Singers for their songs and all other dignitaries who were part of the opening ceremonies, including South Segment Councilman Cory Spotted Bear.

After the opening ceremony and prayer by Delvin Driver Sr, he handed his war bonnet to Councilman Spotted Bear. Chairman Fox then took the podium and began his address by speaking about his own personal commitment to the MHA Nation, native tribes and all the citizens of North Dakota. He related to the audience of how his own family and ancestral heritage are the driving forces that inspire him every day to work hard for the MHA Nation and to unite both the native and non-native people towards a better future together.

Scott Satermo and Delvin Driver Sr. were two of the Little Shell Singers who did traditional drum songs at the State of the Tribes Address

Chairman Mark Fox and his son Eli

“My dad had a dream to be a spiritual leader and he became an ordained minister,” recalled Chairman Fox and how he moved back to Parshall after his father, Isaac Fox, gave up his job at the Minot Trinity Hospital in 1968 to be among his native people. “He built with his own hands, literally, the Church of God Indian Mission to preach to his people. Reservations are highly impoverished and I grew up very poor, but I look at that as a positive.”

Chairman Fox also vividly remembers how he grew up in Parshall and has never forgotten how both native and non-native people in that community fostered his relationship with everyone in a good way. Chairman Fox was straightforward in his words about the history of the land, culture and languages that have been taken away from the MHA Nation from the flooding for Garrison Dam and the biological warfare that took place with the intentional spread of small pox to the native people and his ancestors in 1836 and 1837.

“This is a historical fact and we are still dealing with the historical trauma from that,” said Chairman Fox. “The Flood Control Act of 1944 flooded our land. The Garrison Dam flooded our land.”

From that point, he went directly into several important issues and challenges that face tribal nations in today’s world with shorter life spans, poverty, lack of jobs, adequate health care and resources. “The expectancy of life is 53 years of age as a male and females are 60 years, while other reservations are even less than that. Some tribes have unemployment that exceeds 80%. The lack of jobs on our reservations is why we can’t overcome the economic and social poverty. Health disparities are rampant,” stated Chairman Fox.

He also emphasized how all tribes are now struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic that is taking and affecting so many lives of native people who are more susceptible to the harmful effects of the deadly virus. He stated that the pandemic must be addressed on all MHA Nation fronts and that the partnership of the state is being relied upon by all tribes in stopping the viral spread, noting that the MHA Nation has elected to work with the state in distributing the potentially life-saving vaccines for the tribe.

Chairman Fox also went on to address the needs of a concerted effort by the state to deal with the on-going drug epidemic. He noted that 2,500 arrests were made annually at MHA Nation and 80% of crimes are drug and alcohol-related. Other related issues that ND tribes are dealing with were also addressed by Chairman Fox during this time as well.

Chairman Fox’s dream is to restore the pride, self-sustainability, land, resources, language and culture for his native people as well as other tribes in the United States. The tribal leader is very hopeful that the MHA Nation and other native tribes will continue to survive despite the negative history of stolen land, broken treaties, diseases and racism. Chairman Fox made it abundantly clear that the MHA Nation and the other four tribes in North Dakota have contributed to the state in many ways. The five tribes generated $2 billion dollars annually according to a 1999-2000 report. However, in a 2012 economic study, MHA Nation, on its own, generated 3 billion dollars to the state’s economy. Roads, schools, law enforcement, employment and infrastructure have been improved upon due to the commitment and investment by the MHA Nation. Chairman Fox asked for a fair tax equity for tribes in all areas and to protect the tribal gaming industry because of the many tribes who rely solely on their gaming revenue. He underscored the danger posed to the tribal gaming industry by the state gaming expansion that undermines the tribal gaming strides made over the years which have created jobs on the reservations for both native and non-native people.

In the final part of his address, Chairman Fox spoke with emotion about his fellow native people who have passed on early because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes that the MHA Nation has been left “out in the cold” by the federal government in dealing with the pandemic. But he followed that statement by saying he was grateful to Governor Burgum and others from the state who have been very helpful from the start of the pandemic as it began to make its presence known in the native communities.

“This last year was so hard, not only with the pandemic and loss of revenues, but all have suffered greatly. We are divided and there is still racism. Racism exists. It’s an ugly word but it exists. I have no easy answers to deal with it but I do know we have to make the effort to try. The world is changing rapidly and we need to do it together. I beg each and every one of you to work towards that effort. We have to respect our differences and we can win-win. We can do that and I am confident of that,” concluded Chairman Fox.