DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: Tribes will miss Dorgan's effectiveness, concern

Dorreen Yellow Bird
Dorreen Yellow Bird

My way of life has changed since I left Grand Forks. Where I used to have my car serviced in hours, it now takes days. One of my local friends smiled when she asked me what I missed most about Grand Forks, and the first thing that popped into my head was "take out Chinese food."

There also is a change in the people who visit here, too. They seem to have a different attitude or approach when they cross onto reservation land. I've lived on and off the reservation all my life, but this is the first time I've worked directly with the tribal council.

I may be comparing these visitors to those I met as a member of the Herald's editorial board. I was fortunate to meet many legislators from the national and state level.

It also reflects how the reservation has changed. There was a time when our officials were more traditional and not as worldly. Today, I think the gift of the Bakken oil and gas have had a little to do with the change in attitude.

Anyway, one of the important people who have stayed constant through it all is Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.


So when Dorgan announced he would not seek another term in the Senate, it occurred to me that I've met him so often and at so many different events that I've probably seen him more than I've seen some of my own relatives. He has been a regular visitor to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. My mother and aunt knew him by first name and would be so bold as to hug him.

I am happy for Dorgan, even though his leaving Congress is disappointing because he has provided so much support and help to the tribes of North Dakota.

The senator will be missed by the Three Affiliated Tribes as well as all the tribes in North Dakota and nationwide.

When I read his announcement, I remembered the day I sat across from him at a meeting he'd called at the Standing Rock Reservation. The meeting was to support the people dealing with the large number of suicides happening to the young people on the reservation. I had traveled to the reservation and written a story, so I knew firsthand the anguish and sorrow that the tribal members were feeling at the loss of so many young people.

Dorgan made a concerted effort to lend a hand and to determine how he could help the tribe. He did so without being heavyhanded like some officials from Washington can be with tribes.

Recently, while going through my pictures for an article I am doing, I saw the photos of North Dakota's Gov. John Hoeven, Sen. Kent Conrad, Rep. Earl Pomeroy and other officials riding horseback in the rain across the then-new Four Bears Bridge. The bridge crosses the Missouri River and opened in 2005.

After the opening ceremony at the bridge, I went to the events center at the Four Bears Casino, and one of the first people I saw as I shook the water from my jacket was Dorgan. I teased him that he hadn't ridden across the bridge with his colleagues. He was serious when he shot back that he hadn't been told about the ride, and that he's grown up on a farm, knew how to ride and would have ridden had he known.

Of course, the key was that Dorgan was there, horse or no horse. The bridge was one of those projects he supported and helped get completed.


Dorgan has been like one of those uncles who always are there to lend a hand. How did he get that way? How did he come to understand our needs so well and respond?

I don't know, but I suspect that he treats us like he treats the rest of the people in North Dakota: with respect, because that's just who he is.

I say to him, have some fun now, "Byron" (I've never called him that before). Rest, but don't forget where the Sahnish (Arikara), Mandan and Hidatsa live. Know that you are welcome here, and that the coffee is always on.

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