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Tribe responds to Interior Department’s river mineral rights opinion

NEW TOWN -The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation is demanding the Department of Interior uphold its duty as the tribe’s trustee and protect the tribe’s Missouri River property rights.

“We demand the DOI immediately withdraw its M-Opinion and abide by the longstanding precedent beginning with its 1936 decision that affirmed the MHA Nation’s rights to the riverbed,” said Mark Fox, chairman of the MHA Nation.

On May 26, the Trump administration, acting on a request from the state of North Dakota, illegally confiscated the MHA Nation’s minerals beneath the Missouri River on the Fort Berthold Reservation, according to the MHA Nation.

According to the information, “Without consulting the MHA Nation, the Department issued a false M-Opinion which overturned three prior decisions of the Department, including two prior M-Opinions recognizing the MHA Nation’s title to the riverbed, one of which has stood for 84 years. In doing so, the Department violated the United States obligations under its 1825 treaties with the MHA Nation as well as its fiduciary duty to protect the MHA Nation and its property rights. The Department also failed to consult with the MHA Nation before the taking and did not wait for the MHA Nation’s historical report as previously agreed.”

“The Missouri River has been central to our people’s self-sufficient way of life since time immemorial. Our historic holistic relationship with the river is well known and documented – this includes the riverbed minerals and bottomlands we have utilized for our spiritual well-being, our food, agriculture, and trade economy for thousands of years,” Fox said.

He said Mike Lawson, a nationally renowned Missouri River historian, thoroughly investigated the MHA Nation’s historical usage of the Missouri River and found time again our deep economic, cultural, and spiritual usage and dependency on the Missouri riverbed.

Lawson’s extensive research identified an expanded number of legal and historical events that support the riverbed ownership of the MHA Nation across nearly two centuries. Yet, the DOI did not wait for the report as promised before issuing their misguided M-Opinion, according to Fox.

“The legal and historical precedent is clear: MHA Nation owns the rights under the riverbed within the boundaries of the Fort Berthold Reservation. The Department’s politically motivated action is nothing more than an illegal taking,” Fox said.

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