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Brad Hawk, Executive Director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission
Brad Hawk, Executive Director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission

Today's show segments:

  • Brad Hawk, Exec. Dir, ND Indian Affairs Commission
  • Living on Earth - Solar Eclipse
  • Natural North Dakota: Get out and Enjoy Spring!

Transcript of interview with Brad Hawk, Executive Director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission

Main Street

Director Hawk, welcome to Main Street.

Brad Hawk

Thank you for having me, Craig. I've been in this office for just over two months now. I’m pretty new to the office and in this role, but not new to the office in general. I've been in this office for just going on 11 years now.

Main Street

If I were to ask you, Director, what your role is, what would you tell me?

Brad Hawk

As Executive Director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, we look to bridge the two governments, state government and tribal government. Work on different issues that, let's say, the tribal nation might be having. You know, make sure that our state agencies are aware of that.

Let them offer solutions when applicable. You know, so our role mainly is to make sure that the two governments are communicating, making sure that we're working through issues and make sure there's no arguments on each side. And there's going to be good arguments and bad arguments, but we make sure that they're still communicating and make sure that we address the issue.

Main Street

Tell me about yourself. What's your journey? You grew up, you told me, on the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota.

Brad Hawk

Yep, I grew up there. I went to the University of South Dakota and I met my wife at college there and we decided to move to Bismarck, North Dakota after college. And so in 2000, we moved here and looked for a job and I ended up working at Prairie Knights Casino for a year.

Then I applied for United Tribes Technical College. So I worked there for 11 years in different roles. Did everything from fundraising to grant writing and some other grant management stuff.

But my background was mostly healthcare. I was trained in healthcare administration. I was asked to run their wellness center on the University of Prairie Knights Tribes Technical College campus and so I ran that for just over a year.

The Commissioner of the Indian Affairs at that time asked if I would take on a role for being a healthcare liaison for the state of North Dakota. And so that's kind of how I ended up in the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. This was back in 2013.

So we were working on different healthcare topics with the Department of Health and Department of Human Services at times. So through that, you know, you learn all the other topics and other issues that our tribes deal with. So we were working a lot with the different state agencies to help alleviate any questions or if there's new programs that a state government is implementing then we would make sure that the tribes are included in that.

It's been a little bit of a journey, you know, through my time here. We make sure that through the legislative process there's a lot of hearings and policy discussions. And so we want to make sure that our tribes are thought about when bills are being created.

You know, some bills could impact the tribe directly but a lot of times they're indirectly impacting a tribal nation. And so we have to make sure that those legislators understand that. So we communicate that during that time.

So that's been a pretty big role in our office. You know, obviously that's not the only thing that we do. And for us being part of the executive branch of state government, we still try to work with the judicial branch.

We still work with the legislative branch. So we're communicating with the different branches of state government, still trying to make sure that our tribal governments are included in all that.

Main Street

Director, I've witnessed in Wyoming times when the state had interests and the tribe had interests and they weren't necessarily the same. And I watched people who were liaisons in your position as a state government employee struggle with how do I manage that? How do you navigate that?

What are your thoughts about representing both sides of many issues? Some really complex.

Brad Hawk

I think a big piece of it is having good partners. So when we're working on certain issues, you know, we make sure that we bring in the professionals that are working in that area of that issue. You know, this could be a nonprofit.

It could be for-profit corporation. We, you know, whatever the issue is, but we just want to make sure that we have the right information and make sure we share that with the tribal governments and also state agency leaders too. When we bring all that together, then we make sure we have a clear picture of how to move forward.

And so by having the information available to you, then that's when you can make a sound decision. So that's kind been our role.

Main Street

You have historically, the state and the tribes, many, many significant challenges and some are still ongoing today. What would you tell me your top priority is relative to what needs the most focus now?

Brad Hawk

I think for our tribal communities, you know, a lot of times we're tasked with getting jobs to our tribal communities, you know, when we're still addressing high rates of unemployment. And so our tribal governments have really been working towards, you know, having more opportunities for their tribal members to work. And so we're, we're looking at programs like apprenticeship programs through the unions.

We're looking at other workforce development type programming through our tribal college system to get, you know, jobs that are, that will not, you know, you can get a degree in a year or two and be ready for the workforce. So there's a lot of, a lot of issues on that part of it, but you know, for the tribes, you know, we're trying to set the table for, for the younger generation to come and, you know, step right into these opportunities and have them available. When we're talking about preparing a workforce, you know, there's obviously other issues that we have to deal with.

There's other, you know, when you're talking about healthcare and other pieces that housing, there's all these other variables that we have to, we have to look at. And so we can't just fix one thing and expect it to work for all tribal nations. We have to take a look at each tribal nation separately and figure out what their assets are, what, what issues they're having, and then address them directly.

So, so it takes a lot of communication. It takes, it takes a lot of meetings and kind of figuring out, you know, the best route. As you see our tribal nations, we're starting to develop five-year, 10-year, 15-year plans on how to address different issues in their economy of their tribe.

But we still want to make sure that, you know, they have that voice. We offer them opportunities to meet with our state leaders and set different places for communication to happen. And so that, you know, that, that could be our government to government conference that we have, or it could be a meeting with legislators that we try to do before session.

These are just, just tools that we use to kind of get, get the ball rolling on a lot of, a lot of communication.

Main Street

When you have those communications, Director, are there certain issues that maybe always come to the forefront for legislators and others who just didn't know something about the tribes that you bring to them? What is it that the legislators sometimes don't realize about the tribes in North Dakota and the work of your office?

Brad Hawk

You know, I've worked a lot in the healthcare field, just my time here in the office. And so, so we did get a lot of questions about access to healthcare and our tribal members on and off reservation. How does that look?

So we do have to re-educate on the limitations of the healthcare system that the tribal members have, as opposed to those that live off reservation. That's one piece. I know when we're talking about how do we improve the, the workforce and in the economy of each tribe, it's, it's taking time, but I know our tribes are really getting more sophisticated on how they're addressing different, diversifying their economy.

And so they're not putting all their eggs into one basket. And so they're looking at how to build up the whole economy instead of just one piece. And so, you know, historically, you know, a lot of the revenue has been casinos in each of the tribal communities.

Now they're looking at other pieces of it. You know, it could be, that's just one part to bring people to their community. So now they, they have other things like interpretive centers to, to teach their culture and the tourism side.

So that's kind of been a big piece that we've been looking at with, with each tribe to, to enhance that and work with the Department of Commerce on their tourism plans. So there's a lot of collaboration on different pieces that we look to, to bridge and make better and to, to make sure our tribes are included though. And that's, that's kind of our main thing is.

Main Street

Enjoying our conversation with Brad Hawk. He's the executive director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. He's visiting with us today from his office in Bismarck.

Director, talk to me about education for members of tribes. Historically, at least in my state, there have been issues relative to equitable and fair education and even what education means. Are those issues on your plate too?

Brad Hawk

Yeah, there's the things that we're working on. Education is a big piece of addressing a lot of our issues in our tribal communities. If you think about how many tribal colleges there are in the state, you know, we have five tribal colleges here locally.

And we're, we're blessed to have that because each of those tribal communities can address specific needs that they have. But, you know, we're making sure that they're communicating and, and connected with their high school system because, you know, when, when we're talking about preparing for a workforce, you know, that they're a big piece of it too. So a lot of the work that we're, we're talking about with the school system, making sure that Department of Public Instruction is, is working with each tribal community.

And I know we have a good connection there. There's been some legislation in the past that we worked on to incorporate the history of our tribal nations into the school system. So there's different pieces of, of what, what our office can help with.

We know that education is, is critical to, to address a lot of our need.

Main Street

I know too, the preservation of language and cultural heritage is vital to tribes. How does that intersect well with our public education system today in North Dakota? And I guess, is there more work to do there?

Brad Hawk

You know, there, there has been great strides taken in, in our different tribal communities to preserve their language. I know Standing Rock has a language immersion program that teaches kids, you know, headstart through elementary school. And so they want to build up some of their speakers in, as kids and incorporate that into adulthood.

They have big plans for, for doing that through a lot of their community, community buildings and community outreach that they do. I know MHA has, has taken, taken the initiative through their tribal college to ensure language is being preserved. I think I heard that Turtle Mountain is doing some stuff with Rosetta Stone to teaching of their language through that program.

So there's different things that are happening, you know, by having this mechanism through the tribal colleges and the school system, there is opportunity to, you know, make sure that the language and traditions are preserved and communicated, but that's different if you live off reservation. So those are things that, you know, we're, we're talking with some of the big school systems on, on how they incorporate different traditional teachings in the school systems off reservation. And so we do work with, let's just say, Bismarck Public Schools to, to make sure that their Indian education programs are connected with our tribal, tribal members going to school locally.

And so there, there's some good things happening.

Main Street

The recent redistricting lawsuit, I'm sure you're very familiar with, I think highlighted the importance of tribal representation in the legislature. How did you see the office of the Indian Affairs Commission playing a role then and now in ensuring fair representation and engagement of tribal nations in state government governance?

Brad Hawk

Well, I think, you know, we just want to make sure that we abide by what the court ruling was and make sure that those meetings were happening. You know, we were at the table when we were talking about different, different maps and how that was going to look. Obviously it's really complex when you're talking about census data and information about population.

Our, our tribal communities have been underrepresented through the census. So that can be another wrench into a lot of things, but, but that's a tool that's been used for years. And so that's why we encourage, you know, that process to be enhanced in our tribal community, because that's where a lot of decisions get made.

So, but, but for us, you know, we just want to make sure that the legislative council and legislators that we're all at the table. And so that was kind of a lot of the, a lot of our meetings behind doors is to make sure that, you know, everybody's talking the same language, making sure we're clear about, you know, abiding by that, that court ruling.

Main Street

Given Director of the Diverse Cultures and Histories and Needs of the Five Tribal Nations in North Dakota, is it difficult or is it manageable for you to be inclusive and representative of all the tribes?

Brad Hawk

Well, for our office, you know, we get requests to be part of a lot of meetings, mainly from, from the perspective that we have, you know, access to different groups and we talk to a lot of different folks, you know, within state government. But, you know, for us, we, we really pushed for our tribal members to be involved in a lot of our committees, because they're the ones in those communities and making decisions in their communities. So we really try to make sure that we are there to help bridge the gap, but we still want the voice of the tribal people to come directly from each tribe.

Main Street

We've talked a little bit about opportunities that are ahead for the tribes. What's the biggest hurdle that this state needs to overcome that your tribes that you work with need to overcome?

Brad Hawk

I think, you know, we've really struggled with job opportunities and having, having access to different industries. And, you know, I talked about it earlier, how we're looking to expand on different areas and incorporate new opportunities. You know, the state of North Dakota is really pushing for new industry, new, you know, new work in different parts of industry.

It could be energy development. It could be, you know, it could be agricultural. I mean, we're, we're looking at a lot of these different pieces that really haven't been the forefront for our tribal communities and, and trying to work, work on how can we get our tribes to, to, to move into that or, or expand what they're doing.

So that's, that's some of the work that we're doing through the office. And, you know, we really, we really want to make sure that our tribes are at the table a lot of times. And, and so when, when a new opportunity comes up, we make sure, you know, we get the right people to the table.

And, and a lot of those new potential partners that are looking to come to North Dakota, they, they reach out to our office to see if there's an opportunity with our tribal nations. And so we make those connections.

Main Street

Director, this is a hard question, but I want to ask it of you. There have been news accounts of racist incidents on high school basketball courts, and I don't understand all of the details. I'm not sure that you do, but what comes to your mind when you see those, those stories?

Brad Hawk

Well, from, from a personal perspective, I I've seen it and I do know that it happens. And, and a lot of it is just lack of education in our, of our tribal communities. And so, so there, there is opportunities, there's efforts to, to provide that education about a tribal nation.

I, I do hear it as, you know, being, being a sports lover and being, being part of, you know, just, just watching basketball or football or whatever sport it is, you know, it, it's really a tough issue. And, and, and I know people don't want to talk about racism. People don't think that it's happening.

But being, being a person of color, I grew up and noticed things differently. And, and so we can't keep dancing around it. We, we got to understand that, that it is happening.

But I think education is, is key to, to addressing it.

Main Street

So one of the things I realized growing up in Riverton, Wyoming, and we were surrounded by the Wind River Indian Reservation, they were our neighbors. They lived just a few miles from us. I didn't take the time.

Number one, I'm embarrassed to say when I was younger to understand who they were, who my friends were, what their heritage was. Do you see that as an issue here too, in North Dakota, that our friends and neighbors oftentimes really don't know that much about one another?

Brad Hawk

It is. I mean, it's part of it. And I think, you know, there are efforts to, to address that.

And, and so, but when we're talking, let's just say the school system, when we're educating about our tribal nations through North Dakota history, you know, try to educate through that. That's, that's at one point of time, you know, through an education process. You know, if, if we were really wanting to learn about our tribal nations, it would have to be more than one time.

And, and, and so there, there are resources that are available through the Department of Public Instruction for essential understandings. And, and as we're looking to learn more about a tribal nation, I mean, there, there is interviews that are done with tribal leaders. There's stuff that we're working on through the North Dakota Historical Society on, on preserving some of that tradition and language.

And, and even some of our past leaders, there's, there's things that, that are available for people to learn more about our tribal population. But, you know, our office really looks at, you know, even some of our efforts that we do through Native American Heritage Month. I mean, that, that's usually a month where, where you'll see a lot more information about our tribal communities and things that, that have happened in the past.

But a lot of times you don't hear about the good things happening either, you know, and so that's kind of been things that we promoted through our, our conference that we have every year to talk about what are the good things happening in our tribal communities and let's showcase that. So.

Main Street

Governor Burgum praised your ability to work through complex issues when he appointed you to your position. What has been the most complex issue, the biggest struggle that you've had in working through an issue in your position?

Brad Hawk

I think, you know, working on different agreements that, you know, that, that we're talking about between the state and the tribal government, that's, that's usually really complex because then, then you're talking about, you know, how, how does two governments, two different governments coincide and making sure that they listen to, to the, you know, their constitutions, what they believe in through their state laws or tribal law. And, and so agreements are usually the most complex because, you know, obviously there's going to be issues that are going to test that agreement.

And so, you know, there could be legal involved. There's other pieces of jurisdiction that kind of get tied in sometimes. And, and but, you know, in, in the big scheme of things, you know, we're, we're just trying to make things better for all citizens in North Dakota.

And that includes our tribal nations. So, so a lot of big picture thing, you know, we want to make sure that these agreements happen. But we also want the tribes to be comfortable to, to develop these agreements in their best interest also.

Main Street

Director, if people want to learn more about what you do and what the commission does, how can they do that?

Brad Hawk

Well, we, we have information on our website. We have a social media feed and a lot of our information could be found on our website. We do have Indian Affairs Commission meetings that happen quarterly and, and people can, can view online.

And, you know, we talk about new, new opportunities there. We talk about, you know, issues that we've been working on for some time, but it's a good mix of, you know, both. So we, we do try to post as much as we can in our social media and as, as we get fully staffed, we'll, we'll probably enhance that even more.


Main Street

Brad Hawk, he's the Executive Director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. Director, it's been a pleasure to visit with you.

Brad Hawk

Yep. Thank you for having me.

Main Street

More Main Streets ahead. Stay with us.

Prairie Public transcripts are created on a rush deadline by turboscribe.ai. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of "Main Street" is the audio record of the show.