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Tribal chairman wants state to do more to protect citizens, environment against impact of oil

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BISMARCK, North Dakota — The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe appealed to North Dakota lawmakers Thursday to do more to protect public safety and the environment during the state's unprecedented oil boom.

The state's oil boom has brought people and prosperity to the state but it also has brought problems to North Dakota's five American Indian reservations, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault told a joint session of the House and Senate at the state Capitol.

"There is now a very large market for illegal drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine," he said. "And our communities are experiencing dramatic increases in violent crimes, including murders, rapes, robberies and human trafficking."

Archambault asked lawmakers to provide more funding for mental health services, drug treatment facilities and drug courts "to benefit all citizens of the state who struggle with addiction."

By tradition, North Dakota lawmakers hear speeches during the first week of each session by one leader from the state's tribes — Standing Rock Sioux, Spirit Lake Sioux, Three Affiliated Tribes and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

The Standing Rock reservation straddles the North Dakota and South Dakota border and is home to about 9,000 people, more than half of whom live in North Dakota. The 2.3 million-acre reservation is far from western North Dakota's oil patch, though Archambault said there are concerns among tribal leaders about "the increasing number of environmental incidents."

Once such incident occurred in July on the Fort Berthold Reservation, the western North Dakota home to Three Affiliated Tribes and the source of almost one-third of the state's 1.1 million barrels of daily oil production.

In one of the largest oil-field spills in state history, an estimated 1 million gallons of saltwater spilled from an underground pipeline near Mandaree before it was discovered. The saltwater — an unwanted byproduct of oil production that's considered an environmental hazard — traveled nearly 2 miles into a ravine, killing grass, bushes and trees along the way.

"The environmental impact of overflowing waste, radioactive waste, leaking pipelines and flaring gas cannot be ignored," Archambault said.

The tribal leader hosted President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama during a June visit to the reservation, and several students from the reservation also met with Obama in Washington, D.C., last year. Many of the students attended Archambault's address.

While North Dakota's unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation at less than 3 percent, Archambault said unemployment on the reservation is 66 percent.

Archambault also asked lawmakers to continue supporting job training to help lower unemployment on all the state's reservations and to "reconsider its government-to-government relationships" with the each tribe.

"We hope North Dakota will work independently with each tribe, respecting its uniqueness, to develop an agreement that works best for that particular tribal government and its members," he said.

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