BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa asked lawmakers from oil-rich North Dakota on Thursday to support job training to help lower the high rate of unemployment on the state's reservations.
"I don't have to stand here and read the statistics — we all know where Indian Country stands in the area of economic development," Richard McCloud told a joint session of the North Dakota House and Senate. "We need the state to share in its prosperity and help the North Dakota reservations help themselves. We are asking for a helping hand, not a handout."
By tradition, North Dakota lawmakers hear speeches during the first week of each legislative session by a North Dakota American Indian tribal leader. The address is shared among the leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux, Spirit Lake Sioux, Three Affiliated Tribes and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Tribal leaders "want to a partnership with the state, not charity," said McCloud, a retired postal worker who was elected chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in December.
North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at less than 3 percent. McCloud said an investment in job programs on reservations would reduce the rate further.
"Imagine, Indian Country with an unemployment rate that matches the state, a prospering economy that not only has enough jobs for tribal members but jobs for its non-tribal neighbors," McCloud said. "As a return on its investment, the state will see the prosperity it shared decrease the dependence on welfare and other dependent social programs."
The Turtle Mountain reservation, in north-central North Dakota, receives one-quarter of all welfare payments in the state, McCloud said. The tribe has about 36,000 members, though most don't live on the reservation, he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
McCloud said tribal leaders must also bring more transparency to their tribal governments to spur investments on reservations.
"This is important not just so people have faith in their tribal government but also so that outside businesses feel more comfortable investing in our reservation," he said.
McCloud also appealed to lawmakers to invest in schools on the state's American Indian reservations, where he said only a quarter of the students who graduate from high school "are college ready."
Dozens of students from the Turtle Mountain reservation were in attendance, as was Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
"Open up your imagination and your wallets just a bit more and look at these young people — they are our future," McCloud said. "It is our fundamental obligation as leaders to ensure our children in our communities have the best possible education."
Yvonne St. Claire, an elementary school principal on the reservation, said she was proud of McCloud for making the appeal for better education and job training.
"Now it is the time to do it, with all of this oil money coming in," she said. "If we don't do it now, when is the time to do it?"
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