Upside Down Under: A model of cooperation…

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In recent years there’s been a lot of bickering about the dumbest things often resulting in long-term animosity among co-workers, married couples, friends and even students.

Believe it or not, there are people, in North Dakota, who will argue with you about what kind of tires you should put on your vehicle or whether Italian food is any good. Some of it is just mind boggling.

But instead of all that, maybe we should focus on the positive, the glass is half full as it were. And one sterling example of that in North Dakota is the Three Affiliated Tribes.

If you’re not familiar, the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) manage the nearly million acres of the Fort Berthold Reservation and have been doing so for many years. The tribe is like any other family, it isn’t perfect, but it works together very well to create a better life on the reservation.

These three tribes officially joined together in 1934 which means the affiliated tribes have come through some monumental issues that have had an impact on the entire state, not just Mountrail, Ward and McKenzie counties.

Arguably, the biggest issue this governing group and its residents faced was the building of the Garrison Dam in the late 1940s and early ‘50s. It changed the entire dynamic, not only of the reservation, but of the entire Missouri River watershed.
I spent three years as editor of two newspapers on the reservation and many people still talk about how the Garrison Dam uprooted lifestyles that had been in place for hundreds of years.

How would you have handled a situation like that? How would you have handled a situation that flooded entire communities and inundated prime farmland? Most of us would buckle if the Corps of Engineers told us our entire community was going into the drink.

Instead, the Three Affiliated Tribes decided to make lemonade and the community of New Town was formed from the inundated communities of Elbowoods and Sanish. Fast forward 70 years and New Town has become one of the fastest growing cities in the state. It has a strong Main Street, an agriculture sector, modern neighborhoods and a school system that many of us would envy and one that produces strong high school sports teams year after year.

But that growth itself has also been a major issue on the reservation. The oil boom that started in 2006 and continued through 2014 and has since tapered off, has been a serious issue for New Town, Parshall, Mandaree and even White Shield.
There wasn’t enough housing or hotel space, crime skyrocketed, the cost of living began tearing families apart, country roads were flooded with truck traffic and construction was happening in whatever direction you looked.

The oil boom came so fast and so furious, just consider this. In 2010 and 2011 there were approximately 12,000 vehicles (mostly semi-trailers) passing through New Town’s Main Street every day. With a population of about 2,500, New Town was seeing more traffic than Interstate 94 saw daily between Mandan and Dickinson.

It should also be noted that as a news reporter, I witnessed bumper-to-bumper traffic from New Town halfway to Parshall, about eight miles. It also went in the other direction toward Keene and Watford City.

Again, what would you do if hundreds of random people just started showing up in your community and clogging your small-town streets? How would you handle it? The Three Affiliated Tribes worked through the situation. It was never easy, but they worked through it and today all four communities and the reservation at large, are better for it.

I sat in on some of the tribal council meetings taking notes. I can tell you that the council handled those situations with professionalism, parliamentary procedure and a strong will to protect the people of the reservation.

So when two people argue about Mexican or Italian food, it seems so trivial, doesn’t it? We need to think of bigger issues and how they’re dealt with. Losing a son in Iraq, dealing with cancer, financial collapse on the farm, surviving a tornado; these are all things that people on and off the Fort Berthold Reservation have dealt with over the years, making most of these other arguments irrelevant.

As many people say, don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead, think of how it can be made better like the Three Affiliated Tribes have done. We might all be better off for it.

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