Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation Chairman Mark Fox says splitting House districts would give tribal members a better chance to have a seat in the legislature.
Currently, each of the state’s 47 districts elects two representatives at large, but by geographically dividing the district, voters could elect someone from their area. The district itself would stay intact.
“The real key for us at MHA Nation is just getting our voices heard. Oftentimes our voice is better heard, or more heard appropriately when we have a formal voice on the floor saying this is some of our concerns,” Fox said.
Fox isn’t alone.
During three Tribal and State Relations Committee meetings this week, lawmakers heard from other tribes who say dividing a district geographically to allow each segment to vote for one house representative would give tribal members a better chance at getting elected.
“There are a couple of them that have enough population that you can divide it so they would have one of the House of Representatives would be from their part of the district,” Tribal and State Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Rich Wardner said.
Wardner says splitting districts hasn’t happened in the past, but with people leaving rural areas where reservations reside, it might be necessary.
“We do feel that maybe the Native American population should have at least a representative that comes from their area,” Wardner said.
Rep. Josh Boschee sits on both the Redistricting and Tribal and State Relations Committee and says he supports splitting districts if it helps improve representation for tribes.
“Based on case law from the Supreme Court and what our neighboring states have done to ensure strong tribal representation, there are members of the committee, myself included, who think this is a good opportunity to continue to build healthier relationships with the tribal nations in our state,” Boschee said.
Fox says he thinks the conversations with lawmakers were productive and he hopes his input is considered in the process.
“Having a seat at the table is really what is being asked by our individual members, our tribe as a whole, saying, as you decide how to redistrict, it is really important for Native Americans to be at the table to say ‘Here’s what we think as well,'” Fox said.
Lawmakers will have to move quickly with their discussions since the committee has until the end of the month to redraw the lines.