Published by

John Strand

John Strand, co-owner of the High Plains Reader newsweekly in Fargo and former editor of the Grafton (N.D.) Record, currently serves on the Fargo City Commission. He was elected in June 2016 after serving two terms on the Fargo Board of Education. A native of Crystal, N.D., he graduated from Valley High School in Hoople, N.D., and received a bachelor’s degree from North Dakota State University in 1977. In between two stints as editor of the Grafton paper, he spent 13 years in specialized orthopedic medical sales in Fargo and Rochester, N.Y. As a city commissioner, he’s the board’s liaison with the Human Relations, Native American Commission, Historic Preservation, Library, and Arts and Culture commissions, as well as the Board of Health and Fargo Youth Initiative.

JOHN STRAND: Taking Liberty — North Dakota Nasty

We have a huge public relations problem here in the Peace Garden State. While the world was watching the DAPL pipeline controversy, North Dakota failed abysmally in influencing the narrative telling people about us. What they see casts us in anything but a positive light. We need to acknowledge this.

The movie Fargo gave us an example of how far good PR and branding can go. The film — and subsequently the TV series — put Fargo on the map. Who’d have ever thought that DAPL, NoDAPL and Standing Rock would become common vernacular to others, not only here in the United States but around the world.

We failed. And it will cost us big time.

Social media is the tail wagging the dog these days. As much as we’d say that social media tells only a fraction of the story, it’s hard to argue with what’s gotten out there about us. They see us as oppressors and in a militaristic fashion aggressors against Native Americans. Again.

They see us as heartless and willing to pepper spray, tear gas, shoot rubber bullets and even soak people down with water hoses in freezing temperatures. They see North Dakota all cozied up to a Texas oil company. They see us digging our heels in and not even giving legitimate attempts to mediate, negotiate or talk with folks protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline crossing beneath the Missouri River through sacred Indian ground.

They see us as a people who disregard the voice of Native American spirituality and culture and instead deploy a militarized response to help Energy Transfer Partners move closer and closer to the Missouri despite a federal demand that stops 20 miles away until these complex issues are addressed.

We can’t buy this kind of publicity. And frankly, we cannot buy good will around the planet when they’ve seen what they’ve seen.

That the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Sunday that no easement will be allowed for the pipeline to cross the Missouri until an Environmental Impact Study is completed and until all outstanding grievances have been addressed gives some hope to water protectors.

Meantime, the world sees state and DAPL leadership thumbing their noses at the federal edict.

When they see thousands of veterans of war join the 400-plus tribes represented at camp, so as to create a human shield between law enforcement and protesters, they see courage. When they see an absence of leadership in North Dakota’s governor’s office they see a vacuum and a lack of courage. To date, neither the governor nor the lieutenant governor have set foot on the Sacred Stone Camp. Sad to say the least.

Meanwhile, hope springs eternal. We have a new governor taking office Dec. 15. That vacuum we’ve come to know will be filled sooner than not. And we are optimistic Gov.-elect Doug Burgum will show true leadership, faith in his home state and respect for all of her sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, moms and dads, all peoples. Native relations in the Peace Garden State are in need of urgent attention.

As for water protectors protesting, please go home as per the request of Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault. You’ve accomplished more than anyone could have predicted. Your work now will be done through diplomatic and legal avenues. North Dakota winters can be brutal. Do not risk your lives by staying. Please do what’s right here and now.

No one can turn back the past, whether it be recent months or what’s taken place for generations. But we can create a better tomorrow. And we need to.

That alone will help redefine North Dakota in the eyes of the world. Our futures rest on our good will, our good works, our good work for the greater good of all.

History continues. The next chapters are ours to write. Let’s all think about how we’d like this story to go from this point in time. Otherwise, others will define us. And it won’t be pretty, especially with no change of heart, no change in Native relations here, no change in the us-versus-them paradigm that’s recently become the case.

We can do better than that. Legendary North Dakota we shall again be. Failure is not an option.

JOHN STRAND: Taking Liberty — We Have Made Our Bed, And Now We Must Lie In It

No morning-after pill

Despite what many feared, the sun rose again Wednesday. And it will again, daily.

The shockwaves of a Trump presidential victory reverberated around the world. Many people fell into a state of despondency, a pall cast over their world. Others were jubilant, a victory in hand for Americans who had simply had it with big government’s dysfunction.

At this early point, there really is no prognosticating exactly what it will mean to American policy and the body politic with a Republican administration, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, plus the changes forthcoming on the U.S. Supreme Court.

We can expect some things, however, such as the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, erosions in protections for women and families under Roe v. Wade and efforts to overturn rights for same sex couples to marry.

One thing most assuredly to change will be the ability of government to function. Gridlock should be a thing of the past, we’d gather. A paralyzed government in our nation’s capital will have been stimulated into cohesive action.

The ugly election cycle our citizenry have endured hopefully stopped election night. It was divisive, harsh, dark and revealing all at the same time. Yet, hope springs eternal, and we genuinely hope for better tomorrows, albeit new seasons.

It’s time for everyone to get on the high road. America is only as great as her unitedness. A divisive country leaves some out. Good policy is reflected in what’s for the greater good. Magnanimity is part and parcel to America’s fabric; let’s foster it.

There will always be finger-pointing and those who will dig in their heels resisting change. That will not help. We are all family, after all, and we are all one country. Every single one of us. It’s time for all to roll up their sleeves and build relationships with decision-makers.

Burgum wins

Come Dec. 15, Doug Burgum will be governor of North Dakota. His journey there is nothing less than storied. He went against all the odds. He came from nowhere and first trounced the GOP nominee and then the other two contenders on the ballot Tuesday.

Now, he’ll be at the helm.

To those who know Burgum, this comes as no surprise. He’s always been wired for challenges. To many in his circle of acquaintance, Doug was destined to greatness and accomplishment. He’s an irrational optimist, coining words from his own vernacular, and the word can’t is not anywhere in his life’s vision statement.

Certainly there will be some healing for everybody going forward, particularly legislators who were feeling the focus of Burgum’s messaging as he inched toward the governor’s office since he announced early January.

There also will be room for some bridge-building among progressives who held out hope that he’s be cognizant of their values and concerns, especially regarding women’s reproductive and health care, LGBT protections and public education.

By his own admission, Burgum is data-driven. Yet, as borne out in this election race, when data indicated an upward battle, he simply gave it his all and unyieldingly stayed the course.

Congratulations, Gov.-elect Burgum. We expect great things under your leadership. Also, we all need to sincerely thank Democratic Marvin Nelson and Libertarian Marty Riske for stepping up to the plate and running for governor. Service comes with a price. Sacrifices for the public good are deserving of our respect and gratitude.

Medical pot

A sleeper issue that prevailed handily was Measure 5, which called for legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. Seemingly against the grain of a chorus of establishment voices, the people had the last word.

North Dakota now joins the ranks of states that have shifted views regarding cannabis for medical purposes. This one issue ushered in a new era. Congratulations to the people for speaking your minds in the ballot boxes.

“Sometimes you make the right decision,” said Dr. Phil, “sometimes you make it right.” Now, going forward, it’s our collective job to adapt these decisions to reality and to somehow make them work as they should. It will take all of us to do it. We’ve done it before. That’s what truly makes America great.

JOHN STRAND: Taking Liberty — Your Vote Matters; Every Vote Matters

This is no ordinary election year. We trust that you want your votes to matter, to make a difference, to reflect your core values and principles. Between now and Election Day, your personal challenge will be to get up to speed on party platforms, candidates, measures and special election issues.

Every American citizen is equal when it comes to the voting booth. It matters not if you are rich or poor, male or female, young or old, Lutheran or Muslim, brown or white. Therein lies the true power of citizenship and in this American democracy we cherish.

Seldom is there so much in the balance as there is on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Tipping points in elections are created one vote at a time. Yours could be the vote that sways the direction of the country, state, legislature or on the measures. You could well make the difference.

You likely already know where you stand relative to the presidential race. The differences between the leading party contenders — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — could not be more stark. Adding the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson, who originally hails from North Dakota, and you end up with very distinct options.

Countless millions of people are disgusted with the state of American politics. There’s a vitriol in this year’s presidential race that very likely is unparalleled in U.S. history. We’ve all watched our political culture become tarnished and tainted. It’s unfortunate beyond words.

Yet when you are in the ballot booth, nothing matters but your voice, your conscience, your choices. The people are the great equalizers.

National and state elections present similar dilemmas and present opportunities. North Dakota’s immediate future lies in the question of whether voters want an extension of what we’ve recently become accustomed to — or if there’s a desire for change.

The reality that we have Republican, Democratic, Libertarian and Green ballot options almost across the board is not typical in these parts. That we have a historic presence of Native Americans running for office in North Dakota is more than noteworthy. That we have the alignment of so many statewide or even local candidates with the extremely polarizing and contentious presidential races presents a wild card. Who’s to say where this will all go? Well, folks, it you who will say. You, the voters.

Will North Dakota join the ranks of the so many other states and open the door to medical marijuana? It rests on your shoulders.

Will tobacco taxes be hiked to support public health?

Will legislators be allowed to move out of their respective home districts and still maintain that elected post?

Will there be a constitutional inclusion of what is purported to be better victim protections?

Will the state Legislature be given permission to dip into public schools trust funds?

Each of these votes makes a world of difference, and each charts a very different course.

The local measure asking the people whether they want extensions of Fargo and Cass County sales taxes to support the F-M Diversion project is important and controversial. What say you? Your vote matters. Every vote matters.

Absentee voting is now under way. Early voting opportunities are many the week prior to the general election.

Early voting takes some online patience. Cass County homepage > county > departments > auditor > elections > early voting > CLICK here. Are you still with us? We hope so. Once you wade through the imperial thicket, it’s not hard.

All early voting locations are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 31 through Nov. 4 (Monday through Friday): Baymont Inn, 3333 13th Ave. S.; Cambria Suites, 850 E. Beaton Drive, West Fargo; Fargodome, 1800 University Drive N., Fargo. Nov.2, 3, and 4 (Wednesday through Friday): Days Inn, 2050 Governors Drive Casselton, N.D.

And then, finally, Nov. 8, Election Day, at your local polling place.

Whether you vote is your decision, of course. Whether you participate in charting the course of our future on so many fronts is up to you, absolutely. Whether you vote for something or someone or against someone or something, is in your hands.

We encourage each of you to acknowledge your personal power and influence every time you vote, but especially in this fateful election.

Do your part. Vote. Be part of the change you want.

JOHN STRAND: Taking Liberty — Protecting The Sacred

I needed to go to Cannon Ball, N.D., and see firsthand the Dakota Access pipeline protest site in the heart of Indian Country, a stone’s throw north of Standing Rock Reservation.

When reports Saturday depicted a confrontation between the protestors, who are really protectors, and security personnel armed with dogs and Mace, it was clear I had to go.

Seven of us traveled in two vehicles from Fargo to the Sacred Stones Camp early Sunday morning, arriving there just before 11 a.m. Three are members of the Fargo Native American Commission: Chairman Clinton Alexander, Lenore King, me, as well as Human Relations Commission liaison Tee RedRoad. While en route, at least in my car, the conversation was primarily about Native American issues: stories told, concerns voiced, disappointments lamented.

It was not clear what we were going to find. Rumbling around in my mind were the conflicting stories presented via mainstream and social media. The two versions did not add up.

Some claimed the Dakota Access Pipeline protest is no more than a front for those who unyieldingly oppose oil development. Others asserted it’s about water and the Missouri River not being at risk of contamination, if the pipeline were to leak.

Upon completion, the pipeline would be a conduit for more than half a million barrels of Bakken crude a day. Other pipelines such as the Keystone XL and recently Sandpiper in Minnesota did not survive the public vetting process. Would this happen once again? What would that mean for the tribes and for North Dakota?

Social media videos, pictures and reports showed glimpses of protectors rushing to the front line Saturday to stop bulldozers and payloaders from ripping into sacred sites — and even burial grounds. Court filings Friday identified these exact cultural historic sites and called for protection.

Those sites were dug up and desecrated, according to Native Americans. Official public reports said only that Native Americans perpetrated attacks on pipeline workers, trespassed on private property and attacked those workers.

The heavy construction equipment came from as far as 20 miles away early Saturday. Protectors were stunned and surprised. It was a holiday weekend. Work was not under way at that particular site. A federal court case was coming down the pike by Sept. 9.

Our arrival

Getting to Sacred Stones Camp near Cannon Ball was not difficult, though it did involve taking an alternate route. State Highway 1806, heading south from Mandan along the Missouri River, was closed to southbound traffic as per a state of emergency declared by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

A rainbow hung over the sky southeast of Bismarck-Mandan: the high bluff land along the Missouri is breathtaking and nothing less than spectacular. You easily get the sense you are going into a region considered powerful and sacred by Native Americans and their ancestors, despite the relatively simple existence and poverty in the small Standing Rock Reservation towns of Solen and Cannon Ball.

The main campground became visible from the highway. It resembled a small city, hundreds and hundreds of tents. Conversations stopped; we fell silent.

The roadway into the Sacred Stones Camp was lined with dozens of tribal flags from across the Northern Hemisphere, and at least one from South America; and inside, license plates from practically every state in the nation, as well as Canada.

In light of outside reports of illegal activity and unruly behavior by the protectors, it was reassuring to see quite the opposite. The people — all the people of all walks of life, races and religions — were peaceful. The atmosphere was mournful, solemn, prayerful and heartfelt: families, children, elders, all as one.

A community gathering spot near the main entrance was the center of activities, announcements, prayer songs and speeches. I was one of the speakers, albeit briefly that day, along with Clinton Alexander. Standing Rock Councilman Robert Taken Alive received the Fargo Native American proclamation after which a powerful and moving Sitting Bull prayer song acknowledged our presence.

Angry spirits

Dakota Access workers and equipment had done the unthinkable. Graves had been destroyed, sacred grounds desecrated, ancestors’ spirits disturbed. A ceremony was necessary.

Pretty much a focus of everybody Sunday, the trek to what was left of burial grounds and sacred sites had to begin and could not be postponed.

Preparatory guidance was given: Carry sage and cedar; get smudged before and especially after; no cameras, videos or recordings of the sacred ceremony. The wind was blowing hard, nonstop.

There’s nothing more fundamental to Native American cultures than the connection to ancestors — and the protection of their spirits and final resting places. Saturday’s atrocity, regardless of who was to blame, was blasphemous. Nothing mattered more than attending to that grave circumstance.

Hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand, walked the highway toward that site north of Sacred Stones Camp. A gathering was convened along the way where every person could get smudged and would be given cedar and sage. Tobacco was also an essential for afterward.

A banner emblazoned “Defend the Sacred” led the march. Upon arrival near the sacred grounds, the people en masse left the roadway and walked up the hillside to where the ceremony would take place. Spiritual leaders instructed all to form large circles around the center and called other spiritual leaders, shamans, medicine people and Round Dance leaders to gather in the center.

At the onset, we were told this gathering of the many nations and tribes was the largest of its kind since Little Big Horn. History was in the making, yet spiritual work needed to be done

The experience is difficult to describe, especially coming from the perspective of an outsider.

It was humbling: We were grateful to be trusted outsiders, bearing witness to solemn ritual uniquely theirs. I knew I would never forget it, that it would be an indelible part of my life’s journey.

Several prayer songs ensued. Gestures and signals from leaders gave me only hints of what was unfolding in that inner circle. Intensities rose higher and higher. The mood was solemn and moving, serious and with intention.

After many such prayer songs, the mood changed. A low-key, solemn chant began, remorseful but soothing. Leaders and all turned and offered song and prayer to each of the four directions. It’s just plain hard to describe, except that the feeling I had was one of immense sadness and grief, yet resolve at the same time.

The ceremony concluded, many lines formed to make an exit from that sacred place. Each person was smudged, enveloped in sage smoke, the head, the heart, the body, the back side and even the feet. It was important that no spirits cling and accompany anyone. Relief was in the air, delicate and necessary work accomplished. The work of the Creator, veneration and appeasement of watchful ancestors, proud and powerful.

We walked back to our car, not much to be said. The winds had calmed for the first time that day.