Political corruption is an unfortunate fact of life on many American Indian reservations, and the Fort Berthold Reservation is certainly a noteworthy example. And, as has often happened with tribal leadership around the country, when there’s an influx of wealth the corrupt tribal political bosses often don’t let much of it trickle down to rank-and-file tribal members.
When some of the most productive oil reserves in North Dakota’s oil fields were found on the lands of the Three Affiliated Tribes their leader Tex Hall (just voted out of office earlier this year) seems to have done more to enrich himself than improve the quality of life for his mostly impoverished tribal members.
Hall’s maneuvering even included people who resorted to outright murder in their dealings, and the New York Times has profiled those sordid affairs in an article published today.
Of course, because this is the Times, the driving thesis of the story is that oil’s corrupting influence brought foul deeds to the reservation, but a less myopic and biased assessment would note that oil profits merely acted as fertilizer for long-standing problems with corruption on the reservation.
Also, because the Times has an overweening left-wing bias, not mentioned at all is Hall’s position as a long-time ally of North Dakota Democrats.
Hall was an outspoken friend to former Senator Kent Conrad and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, and he’s continued his support with current Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
In fact back in November of 2013 – just months after Hall’s property was searched for the body of Kristopher Clarke, allegedly murdered by conspiracy involving former Hall business associate James Henrikson – Senator Heitkamp posted a photo of herself with Hall on Twitter calling the tribal leader her “friend.”
— Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (@SenatorHeitkamp) November 13, 2013
Early in the article authors Deborah Sontag (who wrote that previous inaccurate hit piece on North Dakota oil development) and Brent McDonald tie Hall’s leadership on oil issues to that of North Dakota’s state leadership.
That’s a fantastically unfair connection to draw – suggesting that Hall acting as regulator for oil development on tribal lands while simultaneously owning oil industry companies is anything like the North Dakota state government’s cooperative approach to regulating oil and gas development is just plain irresponsible – yet I suspect that if Hall had been out campaigning with the likes of Governor Jack Dalrymple or Senator John Hoeven, both Republicans, Sontag and her colleague would have had a field day with relationship.
But Hall’s decades worth of activism and support for Democrats up to and including his close and friendly relationship with Senator Heidi Heitkamp?
I guess that sort of thing doesn’t fit the Times’ narrative.
The Times profile of Hall’s indiscretions simply connects the dots on a lot of things North Dakotans already knew. Sontag and her colleague aren’t exactly breaking new ground here. But what would be a fascinating topic for investigation would be how much tribal corruption and suffering North Dakota Democrats ignore lest they risk upsetting one of the few reliably pro-Democrat voting blocs in the state.
It’s clear that Heitkamp – a former Attorney General and no babe-in-the-woods when it comes to crime – was holding her nose when she embraced Hall even as he gave his own people the shaft.
Some reporter in the state should ask Heitkamp about this (neither she nor her staff ever bother to respond to my emails or calls), but I won’t hold my breath.