UPDATE: The post below was based on the linked article from the Bismarck Tribune, but lawmakers are telling me that report is inaccurate.
“Despite what the news media has reported, the House Appropriations Committee did not cut any financial assistance to the Double Ditch Village,” Rep. Jim Schmidt (R-Huff) told me this afternoon. “The financial assistance is now as it was. Media wrote the House ‘yanked’ loan approval. We did not ‘yank’ the loan approval or reduce financial assistance.”
As lawmakers enter the last weeks of their legislative session they’re going to be tasked with making a lot of tough budgeting decisions in an environment where there’s not a lot of certainty in what sort of revenues the state will have available.
The state’s forecasters can’t seem to figure out where rock bottom is on falling revenues, and that leaves lawmakers unsure if there will be money available for the appropriations they approve.
All that said, our state still has a responsibility to be good stewards of the land and history. The House voted earlier this session to cancel a $1.25 million loan to repair the Double Ditch Indian Village Historic Site north of Bismarck/Mandan.
It’s a hugely important location. If any of you have been to the Heritage Center on the capitol grounds, the village is depicted in a beautiful 50-foot mural in the Early People’s Gallery (one of my favorite parts of the museum).
We know a lot about the Mandan people (if you’re interested in them you should start with Encounters at the Heart of the World, it’s excellent) but not as much as you might think. We’re still learning more all the time, and the Double Ditch Village is a rich target for archaeological research.
But it’s also a site in jeopardy. “Due to erosion, at least 16 graves have been exposed,” the Bismarck Tribune reports. The erosion has been on-going for years.
Lawmakers in the House, though, don’t see the village as a priority.
“With our current budget situation, that is not what we consider a priority now,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Delzer (R-Underwood) told the Tribune. “We’d much rather have the money go to vulnerable adults, K-12 funding, protection and public safety.”
I empathize with the position Delzer and other lawmakers find themselves in. They have to find cuts, and there is no way to make those cuts without angering someone.
But if we fail to protect the Double Ditch village we could lose invaluable historical evidence forever.
The price tag here is small. Surely the fate of public safety or education or care for vulnerable adults doesn’t hinge on $1.25 million, an amount that is a rounding error in the context of our overall state budget.
This issue is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee. I hope they restore this funding, and find savings elsewhere, and that the House agrees.