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Jenna Clawson Huibregtse, who works in the Capitol, and newborn son Charlie pass by the display of tribal flags outside the governor's office Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

Permanent display proposed for North Dakota tribal flags in state Capitol

BISMARCK — After three failed bills in as many legislative sessions, it took a move by Gov. Doug Burgum to display the flags of North Dakota's five tribal nations inside the state Capitol.

Now a committee of state lawmakers will consider an Indian Affairs request to make the display permanent.

In his Jan. 3 State of the State address, Burgum announced the flags' display outside of his office in the Capitol's Memorial Hall. His decision was met with a standing ovation from lawmakers and others in attendance.

"As we continue to engage with the tribes in discussions about oil and gas tax revenue distribution, law enforcement, behavioral health and other priorities, we will do so with mutual respect and the understanding that we are all North Dakotans," the governor said in his address.

The flags represent the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Spirit Lake Nation, Standing Rock Sioux and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. They join displays of the U.S. and North Dakota flags and the state's Great Seal in Memorial Hall. The Capitol grounds also includes a display of the POW-MIA flag, which the 2019 Legislature approved.

An assistant to Scott Davis, executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, will ask the Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee on Thursday, Sept. 26, to make the display permanent. The committee hasn't met since 2018, before Burgum announced the flags' display.

Davis said the request is a formality and he doesn't expect opposition.

"I think ... with the governor's initiative on tribal engagement, this was such a powerful choice that he chose to do in leadership," Davis said.

He also said the display is in line with previous, failed bills brought by Sen. Richard Marcellais, D-Belcourt, a former Turtle Mountain tribal chairman. Marcellais has brought three bills in previous legislative sessions to display the tribal flags.

None of those bills passed the Senate, with senators in floor debates pointing to costs, space issues and the proper authority to place the flags.

Marcellais had planned to submit another bill to the 2019 Legislature, but he pulled it back when Burgum announced the flags' display.

"I appreciate what Gov. Burgum has done, and it shows a better relationship between the state and the tribal governments," Marcellais said Monday. He is one of at least three enrolled tribal members elected to the 141-member Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, who chairs the committee that will meet Thursday, said lawmakers will hear full details of the request and act accordingly.

"I think everybody has accepted where they're at," Wardner said of the flags.