Democrats Choose Controversial Figure From #NoDAPL Protests as Keynote Speaker at Governor’s Dinner Fundraiser


A protestor pours gasoline on a fire blocking North Dakota Hwy. 1806 on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, north of Cannon Ball. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The North Dakota Democrats have announced that this year’s speaker at their Governor’s Dinner will be Jodi Gillette, former Special Assistant for Native American Affairs to President Obama.

It’s a curious choice, given what some view as Gillette’s role in exacerbating the often violent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It’s worth noting that Gillette is sister to David Archambault who organized the #NoDAPL protests and was chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at that time.

In an October 27, 2016, letter to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch Jonathan F. Thompson, head of the National Sheriff’s Association, accused Gillette of using her influence with the White House “to actively thwart the authorization of federal law enforcement reinforcements.”

The full letter is below, and it’s worth reading to understand the desperate situation law enforcement felt they were being put in by the Obama administration. Here’s the pertinent excerpt with regard to Gillette, specifically:

When I wrote about this letter back in 2016 a Sheriff’s Association spokesman confirmed to me that the person referenced in this excerpt was Gillette. I sent her a message today requesting comment. I’ll update this post with anything I receive.

I inquired to the Sheriff’s Association today as to the outcome of their call for an investigation, and they said they received (perhaps not surprisingly) no response from the Obama administration.

Gillette worked for the Obama campaign here in North Dakota in 2008, generating what has been described as “record turnout” in Indian country for the president. Gillette said her position in the Obama administration after the campaign was invented for her by the president.

“My role is completely the invention of this President,” she said in 2014. “My role really is to advise the President and the senior staff on Native American needs, issues, and challenges. That is something that had never existed before.”

Gillette left the Obama administration 2015 to take a job as a lobbyist. She lists many Native American tribes as her clients, including Standing Rock. On social media she has been outspoken in favor of the #NoDAPL protesters, and lists her employer as the Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry law firm which has offices in Washington D.C., Alaska, New Mexico, and California.

Politically, this seems like a risky choice for North Dakota Democrats. But maybe it makes sense. Earlier today Mike Jacobs had a column about Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s tough campaign to re-election, and noted that there may be some skepticism of the incumbent among Native American voters. Per Jacobs, they perceive the Senator has having sided with the pipeline.

I had Jacobs on my radio show today, and he expanded on that saying sources he’s spoken to in Democratic circles feel Native American voters may be staying home.

Maybe inviting Gillette to this event is a way to win back voters in Indian country? If so, it’s a gambit that could risk alienating some factions of the broader electorate, particularly those people who live in the area where the protests took place.

Here’s the full Sheriff’s Association letter:

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