Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission Since 1949

Map of tribal nations of North Dakota. Standing Rock and the Lake Traverse (Sisseton-Wahpeton) extend into South Dakota. 
North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission
A Reflection Of State To State Relations

By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND – In 1949, the North Dakota Legislature created the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission (NDIAC). The first responsibilities of the NDIAC was to secure assistance for American Indians to work in agriculture or other self-sustaining businesses and to work with the five tribal nations to secure federal funding for programs that benefit all citizens of North Dakota.

In the early years of the NDIAC, the commission took a paternal approach to providing assistance to first nation peoples, and believed that the way of helping the first nations was to assimilate them into the state through their association with the larger population in their day-to-day business and social relationships. At the time, the NDIAC un-successfully lobbied the federal government to administer Bureau of Indian Affairs assistance and programming.

As paternal as the NDIAC was in those early years, the NDIAC lobbied many important issues regarding Indian Country, including two: that the federal government determine a new and more specific definition of who and “Indian” is, and that off-reservation American Indians should be entitled to all the same benefits as regular North Dakota citizens, such as medicine, education, housing, and employment.

In 1952, the NDIAC lobbied Congress to abolish the reservation system, and soon after, the federal recognition status of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa was placed in jeopardy. Federal recognition is granted to tribal peoples who signed treaties with the United States for irrevocable rights in exchange for permanent land cessions. 


Scott Davis is the current NDIAC Executive Director. He is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but he is also part Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. His Lakota name is Ošká Tȟáwa, His Celebration. Listen to Davis' story

Treaties are legal agreements between two or more nations. The relationship between the United States and the First Nations people was established in the 2nd Article of the US Constitution. Tribes that have entered into treaties with states have state recognition. Tribes that have entered into treaties with the United States have federal recognition. Federal recognition general entails that certain lands are set aside for the use of a tribe forever.

In 1954, the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa successfully lobbied to retain their recognition and rights.

The NDIAC has changed with the needs of the tribal nations, and in 1959, sixteen years before the federal government recognized sovereignty in tribal nations’ own determination with the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act, the first nations of North Dakota were given a voice on the NDIAC board.

Despite the oppositional agenda on which the NDIAC was founded, the NDIAC has since worked hard to improve the state to state relationship between the State of North Dakota and the five federally recognized nations within North Dakota. Highlights include scholarships to American Indian students attending a North Dakota institution, the development of the United Tribes Technical College, which opened its doors to native and non-native students in 1969, and legislative support for North Dakota to adopt an Indian education requirement for educators to have had at least one college course in American Indian Studies in their pursuit to teach in North Dakota.

In March of 1999, the NDIAC observed its fiftieth year in operation by co-sponsoring the University of North Dakota’s Writer’s Conference, which featured Native American authors and film makers, and brought their work in contact with the general public.

In 1999, the NDIAC updated its goals to include: “work for greater understanding and improved relationships between Indians and non-Indians.”

Scott Davis (enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe), Executive Director, NDIAC (2009-present), believes the NDIAC as evolved and matured as the state has realized the unique status of federally recognized tribal nations, “Our state is ahead in its relationship between tribal nations and the state. The NDIAC is really the only state with a cabinet level position dedicated to fostering a nation to nation relationship.” 

President Lindquist is known to her people as Šuŋka Wičháȟpi Wiŋ, Star Horse Woman.

Dr. Cynthia Lindquist (enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation), President of Candeska Cikana Community College on the Spirit Lake (2003-present), was the Executive Director of the NDIAC when the commission observed its 50th anniversary.

Lindquist recalls of the NDIAC’s 50th anniversary, “The most memorable thing for me was that the governor was so supportive. United Tribes set up some tipis on the lawn – we had to acquire special permission to set those up. We had elders from all the reservations come and share their stories.” When asked about the next fifty years, Linquist added, “We Indian people still struggle with how we relate to our state and our country. There needs to be a better relationship between our native people and non-native peoples. We should always have a place at the table of the state.”