With speeches, salutes and drum songs, Tribal Flags installed at School of Law

Law school’s most honored space now hosts flags of N.D.’s five Tribal Nations on permanent display

In a formal ceremony on Friday, the five American Indian tribes of North Dakota presented their national flags to the UND School of Law.

This is the first such dedication at UND and signifies good relationships and important ties between UND and the tribes.

The tribal flags will be permanently on display in the VandeWalle Courtroom, the ceremonial courtroom where the North Dakota Supreme Court each year hears a number of cases. The courtroom is the law school’s most prominent and honored space, School of Law Dean Michael McGinniss noted in his remarks.

In a ceremony in the VandeWalle Courtroom at the UND School of Law on Friday, military veterans from the five Tribal Nations in North Dakota salute the colors after presenting their flags for permanent display. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Moreover, UND law students begin their law-school careers with orientation in the courtroom, then spend many hours there practicing trial skills and watching attorneys argue cases, observed Ashley Vander Wal, vice president of the UND Native American Law Student Association.

The flags came from the Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes), the Spirit Lake Nation, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation.

“The ceremony was a presentation by the five North Dakota tribes of their national flags to the School of Law for permanent display in the courtroom,” says James Grijalva, professor at the law school and advisor to the UND Native American Law Student Association, in the video linked to above.

“The ideas is, we’ve got the United States flag and the North Dakota flag, but we’ve got five other governments that are not represented or had not been represented before.”

Robert Hunter, U.S. Army veteran, represented the Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation in presenting the Three Affiliated Tribes’ flag. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

“It means a lot to us,” says Richard Marcellais, North Dakota state senator and former tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, in the video. “It means good relationships between the organizations themselves, and it gives us pride and honor to have our flags displayed off of the reservation.

“I want to thank UND for allowing us to do this,” Marcellais continued. “It’s an honor to do it for them, and I think it was really a nice ceremony.”

The event was sponsored by the UND School of Law’s Northern Plains Indians Law Center and the UND Native American Law Student Association.

The ceremony was a featured event of the National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition, which took place Feb. 26 and 27 at the law school. Forty two-person teams of law students participated via Zoom.

The procession of tribal representatives into the courtroom was accompanied by a tribal flag song, performed by the Thundering Bear drum group from Turtle Mountain.

In the VandeWalle Courtroom at the UND School of Law, Dean Michael McGinniss spoke in front of the newly presented Tribal Nation flags. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

“I cannot begin to adequately express the significance to our School of Law of this magnificent occasion,” said Michael McGinniss, Dean of the UND School of Law, in his remarks at the ceremony.

“Mutual respect between North Dakota’s state institutions and the five tribes is a priority of the highest consequence. Our desire to display the flags, and the tribes’ decisions to trust the flags to us, symbolize that mutual respect in a highly visible and meaningful way.”

Moreover, “at the School of Law, we are fully committed to serving our tribal communities through our program of legal education,” McGinniss continued. “And we take great pride in the privilege we’ve been given to educate tribal citizens to become lawyers.”

The procession of tribal representatives into the courtroom was accompanied by a tribal flag song, performed by the Thundering Bear drum group from Turtle Mountain. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

One such alum is Mark Fox, Chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and guest speaker at the ceremony.

“What a wonderful event, and what an honor for UND and for the tribes,” Fox said in his remarks.

“I think it shows great progress; I think it shows great respect. And it really gives me a lot of hope for the future. … To display these flags really brings us together and teaches us something, and our young people in generations to come will benefit from this. … Even if our differences need to be respected, we are all the same, and we can move forward to make this a better world. So congratulations to everybody.”

When Fox looks back at his life and tries to identify “the most influential experiences that helped put me where I am today,” especially those experiences that helped him develop as a public servant, two stand out, he said.

The first was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The second was attending the UND School of Law.

“I give huge credit, immense credit to the school, because of the knowledge and experiences that I gained there,” Fox said.

“It was a difficult time, sometimes, as a Native American student,” he continued. “It was a somewhat different experience for Native American students back in those days,” meaning the early 1990s.

“But I will tell you, it was only because of many the professors, the system, the UND law school itself, always encouraging and always saying, ‘Keep going. Keep moving forward,’ that I was able to gladly stand there in May of 1993, then walk across that stage and receive my Juris Doctorate. …

“Thank you for letting me share this with you and for being a part of this event tonight,” Fox concluded.

A video of the ceremony is available on the Facebook page of the UND Native American Law Student Association.