Becoming informed

Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, wants more people to have a chance to learn about the workings of tribal government.

Davis, who spoke Tuesday during Native American Cultural Awareness Week at Minot State University, said he has talked with tribal colleges and other educators about introducing such classes at individual colleges. Each of North Dakota’s five tribes operates a bit differently and has different laws and procedures, so Davis said the classes at tribal colleges would be tailored to fit the needs of a particular tribe.

Davis foresees a certificate program or a degree program called Native Americans Into Governance that might give an overview of tribal government and the different agencies and federal laws that affect tribes. Davis thinks such a program would benefit people who have been elected to tribal councils or lawyers working on reservations as well as anyone else who needs to have a working knowledge of tribal law.

Davis said he might also consider starting a Native American Police Institute to educate people about tribal law if colleges are unable to offer such a class.

Davis had worked at United Tribes in different capacities before being appointed executive director of the Indian Affairs Commission by then-Gov. John Hoeven in 2009.

Davis serves as a liaision between state and tribal government and government agencies. He said he had worried he might be the “token Indian” on the commission when he first took the position, but that has not been the case. As executive director, he has been given freedom to lead by both Hoeven and now by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. The executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission is also a cabinet-level position, which is not the case for comparable positions in other states, said Davis. He said this gives him more access to talk with the governor about any possible concerns.

His position requires clear communication and the ability to work well with people. Since tribal councils typically hold elections every two years, he also has to develop relationships with new people every couple of years.

Different issues come up from time to time. One issue that comes to mind with the recent start of deer season is tribal and state laws regarding hunting. The laws sometimes clash, said Davis, who said he loves to hunt.

He said one issue that is personal for him is Social Services and protecting children both on and off the reservations.

Davis is a member of the Standing Rock Tribe and also a descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Native American Cultural Awareness Week activities will be held throughout the week at Minot State.

Today’s events include a panel discussion at 9 a.m. in the conference center of the MSU Student Center called “What You Want to Know About Native American Culture, But Haven’t Asked.” Gilson Mandan, author of “Prairie Chicken Tales” will talk about the importance of storytelling in Native American Culture at 2 p.m., also in the conference center. There will be a fry bread taco sale by the Native American Cultural Awareness Club in the lower level of Old Main at 11 a.m.

For a complete schedule of events, log on to the Minot State University website.