Are All Tribes the Same?

clip_image002.jpgIf you live in Montana, you know there are vast differences between the Sioux/Assiniboine in the northeast, the Crow in the Southeast and the Blackfoot in the Northwest. While there are similarities in their governmental and social structures, they are each culturally distinct people living in vastly different environments.

This morning, I caught a news interview on FOX Business with a member of the MHA Nation (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Tribes) from North Dakota (pictured above). He talked about the amount of oil production capacity they have on their reservation – equal to oil production from some Arab countries. He also talked about building the first oil refinery on US soil since 1976. Now that is great news!!!

This is a fascinating story which is juxtaposed to what is happening here in Whatcom County. The MHA Nation decided that instead of others profiting from their natural resource, they wanted to retain control locally of as much of the profitability as they could. To that end they are planning to build a truly state of the art oil refinery. They also have very interesting ideas about what they can accomplish if they can maintain that control locally. They are talking about expanding their local jobs to engineering and skilled labor jobs. They are talking about creating national companies. They are talking about pricing structures that favor their local area and more. For a deeper understanding of their plans click this link to read the article.

Their project has been 10 years in the making.  Challenged for 10 years in the “EPA merry go-round” and special interest groups, the MHA Nation has been undaunted in their pursuit of what they call “economic sovereignty,” as documented in this November 15, 2013 article at the website.

In the last week of October of this year, the MHA Nation signed a contract with Minneapolis-based Park Construction Co. in the latest phase of activity destined to make the Thunder Butte Clean Fuels Refinery on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation the first tribal refinery ever.

Their concept of economic sovereignty is fascinating.  What if Whatcom County would not have to go to Olympia every year hat in hand looking for food scraps at the table that feeds Seattle and Tacoma?  What if we could have the funds to develop our own programs to benefit the people in our own community . . .  like build a new high school in Ferndale or improve our water usage in the rural areas to name a couple of local issues?

Just to put a fine point on it, Whatcom County is also blessed with a natural resource: the last undeveloped deep water port site on the US west coast.  There has been a proposal to build a state of the art commodity port here. Without the port here, other ports in Canada and elsewhere will profit and we will have absolutely no say in either how those profits are used or how the environment is protected.

It has been reported by local media that the Lummi and Nooksack tribes are against building a deep water port at Cherry Point, which likely will result in a loss of local control and a loss of the local profits accruing to themselves and our community.   This brings me back to the focus of this post — Are all Tribes the same?

Visualize a Whatcom County where the local tribes and county residents work together to promote our local resources together, put our priorities on developing the best technology and work together to produce a self-reliant community who work together and solve problems in a manner that respects everyone.

~ Lorraine Newman

Check Also

A Witty-Ditty to Welcome the New Council

Local author and citizen extraordinaire, Jack Petree, has written a poem to share with the …


  1. Thank you for an inspirational article at a time when nothing much looks for good for the average Joe. I am somewhat surprised that the Whatcom County tribes do not seem to be as forward looking as the those in North Dakota. What if they could explore their horizons beyond Casinos and fishing? We know the deep water terminal at Cherry Point is going to be state of the art, and the idea of not having to go crawling cap in hand to Olympia for every little crumb is very appealing. We also know that trains will continue to run come what may and will simply deliver all their benefits to Canadians instead. The ground is fertile – let us not condemn ourselves to basic scraping by when we could lead the way cooperating for an assured future.

  2. I did hear that the Lummi tribe consider the refinery area their tribal burial grounds. What poetic justice this would be if it took the tribe’s sovereignty to get this done!

Leave a Reply