MHA Nation Condemns North Dakota’s ‘Greed-Based’ Efforts to Intervene in Lawsuit

“MHA Nation has a long history of standing up to deception, greed and broken promises, and we will continue to stand firmly in the truth,” said MHA Nation Chairman Mark N. Fox. (Courtesy MHA Nation)

On August 10th, North Dakota filed a motion to intervene in the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara (MHA) Nation’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior. The suit claims the Interior Department illegally took the MHA Nation’s property rights in the Missouri riverbed on the Fort Berthold Reservation and breached its fiduciary trust and treaty duties. 

The Nation has spoken out against North Dakota’s move to intervene, condemning efforts by state officials as a “greed-based property grab from the MHA Nation.” 

“MHA Nation has a long history of standing up to deception, greed and broken promises, and we will continue to stand firmly in the truth,” said Mark N. Fox, Chairman of the MHA Nation, in a statement.

Background: Where the Missouri River flows across the Fort Berthold Reservation, the MHA Nation owns the riverbed beneath it. For nearly 80 years, the federal government has affirmed the Tribe’s sovereign, legal rights to this stretch of riverbed and the mineral resources under it. But that changed on May 26, when Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani defied the Interior’s decades-old precedent and issued an opinion that overturned three prior Interior decisions, including one that has stood since 1936. 

READ MORE: Move to Strip MHA Nation of Missouri River Mineral Rights Is a ‘Land Grab’ and ‘Attack on Our Trust Resources’ 

Why Now: North Dakota seeks to claim the more than $100 million in unpaid royalties and future payments from oil drilling beneath the MIssouri River bed, says Chairman Fox. With recent technological advancements to extract oil beneath the waterway — a new, horizontal drilling technique — issues over mineral rights ownership have escalated. 

Pending Lawsuit: Jorjani’s opinion led the MHA Nation to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior on July 15th to prohibit the illegal taking of the Nation’s property rights to minerals beneath the Missouri River on its reservation in western North Dakota.

READ MORE: MHA Nation Sues Interior Over Missouri Riverbed Property & Mineral Rights 

State Seeks Intervention: On August 10th, North Dakota filed a motion to intervene in the Tribe’s lawsuit to prop up the Jorjani Opinion. Back in 1979, North Dakota lost its claim to the riverbed on Fort Berthold before the Interior Board of Land Appeals, a decision which became binding after the state failed to appeal. 

“Now, having successfully lobbied DOI to overturn its own longstanding precedent, state officials are doubling down on their greed-based property grab from the MHA Nation. They are not listening to North Dakota citizens, the MHA Nation, or the national and local media who have criticized the State’s unfair actions as ‘extortion,’” according to a Tribal statement.

“The Tribune editorial board believes the state has made misguided decisions in its pursuit of oil money,” states an opinion published in the Bismarck Tribune, giving credence to the Tribe’s assertion. 

“The truth endures and remains evident – the Missouri riverbed was held in trust by the federal government for the MHA Nation before North Dakota became a state. Since before our original treaties, the Missouri riverbed within what’s left of our reservation has belonged to the MHA Nation. Again and again, over the decades, the DOI (Department of Interior) has expressly acknowledged that the Missouri riverbed and the minerals beneath it have legally belonged to the MHA Nation within the Fort Berthold Reservation. Stand for what’s right – stand with the MHA Nation,” Fox said.

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