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Chairman election among most important in tribal history

NEW TOWN, N.D. -- Seldom have the Three Affiliated Tribes had so much at stake. Tribal members will go to the polls Nov. 4 to elect a new chairman, who will lead during the most affluent period in the tribes' history. Oil and gas development on t...

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Mark Fox, candidate for Three Affiliated Tribes chairman. 10-14-2014 MIKE McCLEARY/Tribune



NEW TOWN, N.D. -- Seldom have the Three Affiliated Tribes had so much at stake.

Tribal members will go to the polls Nov. 4 to elect a new chairman, who will lead during the most affluent period in the tribes’ history.

Oil and gas development on the Fort Berthold Reservation will generate more than $1.2 billion in oil tax revenue for the next four years, with millions in monthly oil royalty income and other traditional monies on top of that.


In addition, many tribal members are earning income from their private mineral acres, while others are operating businesses or have jobs related to the Bakken play.

Tribal chairman candidates Mark Fox and Damon Williams are campaigning hard to lead during these years of prosperity, perhaps more difficult than leading in times of adversity.

Some tribal members say this is the most important election in the tribes’ history, and historian and elder Marilyn Hudson said, if it is not that, it is certainly among them.

“The thing that distinguishes it (election) is the amount of money. It’s characterized by considerable wealth,” she said. The last time an election so pivotal occurred was in the ’50s, when Garrison Dam flooded much of the reservation and its people had to be relocated.

She said the tribe is fortunate now to have candidates that are intelligent and educated and have “the right stuff” to be good leaders. Both are Parshall “homeboys,” and both are law school graduates, she said.

Hudson believes “the next chairman is going to have a lonely, lonely road to try to get us back from where we are,” in reference to the embarrassing legacy of current chairman Tex Hall, who was voted out in the primary after being tied to shady oil field deals with a man since charged with murder-for-hire.


Revolution of values


Mark Fox, 52, brims with energy and can and does talk for hours about his plans for the tribes, if he’s elected chairman.

He’s no novice to tribal government. He’s currently the tax director and was a councilman from from 1994 to 2002.

He has a dream for the reservation that it will one day be a model society, not only for all of Indian country, but for everyone.

He dreams of economic sustainability, self-sufficiency and good health.

“We can be generating our own power and consuming our own food. We could raise the standard for everyone among us, that’s my dream. We need less federal dependency and getting into the mode of doing things for ourselves. We should have wind turbines and solar panels and raise our own beef for $3 a pound instead of $9,” he said.

Fox says poor nutrition and substance abuse steal positive energy from tribal members.

Fox fears that the model of dysfunctional families, failed because of drug and alcohol addictions, is getting worse, not better, on Fort Berthold.

He  wants to begin change, first of all from the top down.


He would transform tribal government from a council of seven, to a legislative style body of 18 representatives and a tier of chairman, treasurer and secretary, plus an elected attorney general to head the reservation’s justice system.

“The centralization of power lends itself to abuse. We need to spread that out, slow it down and be more deliberate. If we’re going to change course, the biggest part is changing government,” he said. “Until we change this, nothing changes.”

He says he believes that, with support from the tribal council, a constitutional election can be called within a year to enable these sweeping changes.

If elected, he plans to conduct meetings open to the press and the public and stop private dealings. He thinks there needs to be more financial transparency.

As tax director, Fox is familiar with the unprecedented flush of oil money coming to the tribe.

Within the next four years, he expects the tribe will bring in $1 billion annually in oil taxes, royalties and other income.

He aims to focus on housing, roads, medical facilities and education.

Fox said the tribes’ payroll has grown from $200,000 a pay period in 1994, to more than $3 million per pay period today. He thinks there is waste to cut


He supports direct payments to tribal members as a way of sharing oil wealth. This year, the tribe paid $1,500 to every enrolled member, to the tune of about $20 million. It’s money for household expenses, education or health needs.

“I know it needs to be increased, but whether it should be 10 percent,

20 percent, or 50 percent of the total revenue, I don’t know,” he said.

He said the payments should be needs based. Someone who’s already receiving $100,000 from oil royalties, does not have the same needs as a mother of four children, he said.

If elected, he wants to survey tribal members to gain insight into how spending should be prioritized.


Bring light to the tribes

Damon Williams, 45, has a calm, almost professorial demeanor from years as a general counsel and supervising attorney, first for the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas and, since 2007, for the Three Affiliated Tribes.


Being tribal attorney didn’t gain him any special favors with outgoing chairman Tex Hall. He said they came into conflict almost immediately when Williams disputed making payment for Hall’s personal outside legal work. Needless to say, Hall has not endorsed Williams, or Fox,  to be his replacement, now that Hall is out after a four-year term marked by enriching his own oil service company and being in business with a man charged with multiple counts of murder-for-hire, murder conspiracy and drug dealing.

Williams said, if elected, he wants to remove the shroud of secrecy and bring tribal business into the light.

“In the last four years, we didn’t know exactly the financial status of our tribe,” he said.

Williams said the recent news of a $500 million general fund and special projects’ budget for 2014 was shocking to him, and everybody else.

“I don’t see $500 million in progress on the reservation and services to members. Why do only certain people know these numbers? We need transparency. I’ll be issuing quarterly reports,” he said.

He proposes to withhold 60 percent of the tribe’s relatively new and enormous income stream from oil and gas production into special accounts that will perpetually fund education, health care, veterans, housing and cultural preservation, still leaving enough for a

$170 million annual budget, itself a vast increase from past general budgets.

“These are all things we talk about. I want to secure revenue for them beyond the oil play,” he said. “Eventually, the oil will be gone and all that will be left is what we’ve set aside.”


He said the tribes need to return mineral acres taken from individual tribal landowners by the federal government during the construction of Garrison Dam. He said the return could be made, because the ownership records are precise and the action would be legal under the 1984 Fort Berthold Mineral Restoration Act.

He promotes a genuine constitutional revision for the first time since 1934, when the tribes adopted a boilerplate document provided by Washington.

He said too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few people on a seven-person council, leaving the potential for corruption and mismanagement.

He said the tribe will have the resources to deal with big problems, the drugs that are destroying the tribe from the inside out, the crime, the lack of employment and loss of culture.

“We could do a lot of good or irreparably harm our people. We can, this generation, build our people up. We can have a student loan program, where if they graduate, we forgive the loan. Ideally, all of our children will graduate from high school and many will go on to college or into the trade schools,” he said.

If elected, Williams said he doesn’t plan the employee purge that has happened in the past, with new power paying off old favors.

“I really think this is the time we can make a change. We have the resources now to help people achieve their dreams. We need to build some hope and some real assistance,” he said.

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Damon Williams, candidate for Three Affiliated Tribes chairman. 10-14-2014 MIKE McCLEARY/Tribune

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