UPDATE: Turtle Mountain, Spirit Lake tribal leaders react to redistricting ruling

Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 8:06 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2023 at 11:18 AM CST
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MINOT, N.D. (KMOT/KFYR) – UPDATE (11/21/2023 at 11:20 a.m.): In a recent decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private litigants are not permitted to bring lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Due to this recent decision and other legal precedent, Secretary of State Michael Howe, in consultation with Attorney General Drew Wrigley and North Dakota’s legislative leadership, will be pursuing an appeal of the Turtle Mountain v. Howe decision.

ORIGINAL STORY (11/17/2023 at 8:00 p.m.): A federal judge ruled Friday that the North Dakota legislature violated the Voting Rights Act when it revised legislative districts that included two tribal nations.

We reached out to Jamie Azure, the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, one of the tribes impacted by the redistricting.

Azure says the tribes are at the point where they are done asking for a seat at the table and demanding that their voices be heard.

“I really think that this decision shows the impact tribal nations can make when they unite to stop a cycle of exclusion and, let’s face it, under-representation that is, for generations, prevented too many Native people from having a say in the state-level decision making,” said Azure.

Azure says this decision sets a precedent.

“This is a major victory for tribal nations across the country today. It may seem like a simple redistricting case but it’s just an example of nations coming together to challenge when we feel wronged,” said Azure.

In a statement provided by the Campaign Legal Center and Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Spirit Lake Chair Lonna J. Street said:

“Native people have the right to vote in North Dakota and the Spirit Lake Tribe will defend that right each election if we must, however, this case could have been avoided if the people elected to positions of power abided by the laws that protect voters.”

We reached out to the Secretary of State’s office for comment.

The state will have a month to file a challenge to the ruling.

Azure said one option that could be considered is the redistricting plan the tribes initially proposed that was not adopted, and possibly challenging the federal census numbers.

He said he’ll be consulting with their tribal counsel to figure out the next steps.