Tex Hall. Courtesy/MHA
The following is the text of a letter submitted by Tex Hall, the chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, to Ken Rogers, the opinion page editor for The Bismarck Tribune.
Running a government and politics in general brings with it one’s fair share of detractors. I am generally inclined to let my work and the results speak for themselves. But, a recent front page story in your Sunday March 9 edition, “Adrift in a flood of work, Native companies say fronts are epidemic”, was based on countless assumptions and inaccuracies that as Chairman, I find it necessary to respond to give you, your staff and readership some balance and a better understanding of our tribal government.
First, the article gives readers the impression that our TERO laws, which we adopted as a sovereign nation to provide Indian preference for jobs and contracts and to promote economic growth for our tribal members, are the only laws on the MHA Nation that govern business opportunities related to the energy boom. Not so.
Entrepreneurs have to comply with tribal laws ranging from oil & gas, transportation, environmental, law enforcement, to fish & wildlife. Our tribal government is responsible for enforcing all these laws in order to protect our land, water, and communities. There are numerous state and federal laws in play as well. The bottom line is that all businesses, Native and non-Native, such as the ones featured in your story, have to comply with all these laws, not just TERO laws. If they don’t they will not remain competitive or in compliance. This important angle should have been a major part of the story.
Second, your story contains numerous allegations about Indian business “fronts” that are alleged by just four Native Businesses out of 140 total. A front is when an Indian business is not a real bona fide company, meaning they have someone else do the work but collect the check. Yet no actual “fronts” were revealed. Rather, the author simply repeated allegations by others about the existence of “fronts." It is understandable that certain businesses are going to be unhappy about how well they are doing – that’s the reality of a highly competitive energy market. And yes, there are lots of businesses. Some will thrive; some will not. That is not TERO’s nor the Tribe’s fault.
Third, as Chairman, my overriding goal has been to fight for our people and do whatever I can to see that we have a chance to reclaim our economic sovereignty - our self-sufficiency. I’d like to see every single member of our Tribe who wants to work or own a business succeed, and I will do everything within my power as Chairman to make conditions for that success possible. But - it is not our Tribe’s job to run someone’s business for them. If they succeed, that is great. If they don’t, I hope they retool and get another chance. My job, as I see it is to make sure that my Administration and our Tribal agencies follow our Constitution and our laws. I believe that governments job is to ensure laws are followed.
For instance, our TERO Office investigates and then certifies whether a native company is 100% Indian-owned and that requires proof of actual ownership, and proof of an actual business on actual land – which means a real building, staff, equipment, business knowledge to perform the work, and insurance. When a Native businesses enter into contracts with an oil company, that contract is between the oil company and the Native business. It’s up to the Native company to perform the work and comply with our Tribe’s laws and requirements, such as obtaining a TERO license, Department of Transportation permits, and to pay fines for dumping or spilling hazardous material or salt water on the reservation. If a Native company does not comply, they may lose their license or permits, if they do not perform the terms of their private contracts they could lose that as well.
The point I am making is that our government is responsible for making sure all businesses, Native and non-Native, comply with our tribal safety and environmental rules. In fact, we have created an entire compliance division by cross training and requiring our officers to obtain both Tribal laws and Federal certification. To protect our homelands, we will rigorously enforce our tribal regulations against both Native and non-Native companies and we will be fair. We cannot guarantee success; but our goal is to create an environment where one can succeed. It is important for your readers to know that we stringently follow the law in the protection of our people and the environment. It is also important to remember there are always two sides to a story. There are many Indian owned businesses doing well; they have played by the same rules as everyone else and are succeeding.
There is an old saying that says everyone is entitled to their opinion but not their own facts. Here are some important facts. Since 2010, when I was elected for a third term, I have worked to create a level playing field with a fair business climate and regulatory laws. As a result we have 1,000 oil wells, producing 180,000 barrels per day, a multi-million dollar cleans fuels refinery under construction and we’ve implemented anti-flaring regulations, and put a safe railroad crossings and roads plan in place. We’ve also created 20,000 jobs and have several hundred small businesses working on the reservation.
This did not happen by accident. We have worked hard to make this a planned, safe oil and gas development and we will continue to do so.
Tex “Red Tipped Arrow” Hall
Tribal Chairman, Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation
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