BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — When North Dakota lawmakers return to the state Capitol every other year for session, they attend workshops on everything from legislative procedures to using their state-issued computers and cellphones. An American Indian lawmaker wants to add "cultural competency training" to that list.
Sen. Richard Marcellais, a Democrat from Belcourt and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, has pushed the idea unsuccessfully before, but says it's more appropriate this year given the ongoing dispute over the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes are fighting the pipeline, which has support from many state officials.
"It is time to create a new relationship between the state of North Dakota and our five Native American tribal nations," Marcellais told a Senate committee Thursday.
Republicans who control North Dakota's overwhelmingly male and nearly all-white Legislature say the training is unnecessary.
"It's another solution in search of a problem," House Majority Leader Al Carlson said. "There isn't a problem."
Marcellais' proposal calls for four-hour training to "provide legislators with the background knowledge and skills necessary to respond to and work with the diverse populations in the state, including Native Americans." It does not provide additional details.
Two North Dakota lawmakers besides Marcellais claim Native American heritage. Both are Republicans.
Minot Sen. Oley Larsen, a member of Alaska's Sealaska Corp., called the measure a waste of time, especially when the state is dealing with decreased tax revenues due to depressed oil and crop prices.
"I won't support it," he said. "We got other fish to fry."
Northwood Rep. Wayne Trottier, who claims "Canadian Indian lineage," said he probably would support the measure, but doesn't expect it to even make it to the House.
Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, who co-sponsored the legislation, noted the Legislature requires North Dakota teachers to take a similar class. The North Dakota Highway Patrol also requires troopers to take such training.
Brenda White Bull, a retired Marine and member of the Standing Rock Sioux, told the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee that she and other military personnel were required to take similar classes before being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"If we had to do that overseas, we can do that here," she told the committee, which did not take immediate action on the legislation. "We're fighting a spiritual battle and the government is fighting a different battle and we're not seeing eye-to-eye."
But Larsen said he doesn't think Marcellais' proposal will help.
"This is a knee-jerk bill that has nothing to do with cultural sensitivity," Larsen said.