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Senate Hears SHSND Budget Bill

Posted 3/07/13 (Thu)

Steven Sitting Bear of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission presents testimony on behalf of Executive Director Scott Davis to the Senate Appropriations Committee March 7 at the State Capitol in Bismarck.

A packed legislative room heard testimony Thursday morning, March 7, before the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s budget for 2013-15.

Several supporters testified on behalf of HB 2018 and the critical need for additional staffing to provide security, interpretation, public services and maintenance in the expanded North Dakota Heritage Center.  Supporters emphasized how important it is that when the new North Dakota Heritage Center opens its doors, it meets and even exceeds the public’s expectations.

We look forward to working closely with this committee and the rest of the Legislative Assembly to  continue to move forward with the expansion project and the other needs as identified in the State Historical Society’s budget for the 2013-15 biennium.

SHSND staff providing testimony included Director Merl Paaverud, Assistant Director David Skalsky, and New Initiatives and Expansion Coordinator Claudia Berg.  Also testifying was State Historical Board member Chester E. Nelson, Jr., who emphasized the critical need for additional staff in the expanded North Dakota Heritage Center, and SHSND Foundation Development Director Marlo Sveen, who discussed the status of the Foundation’s fundraising campaign for the expansion project.

These supporters also provided testimony:

Dennis Hill, executive vice president and general manager of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC), who was unable to attend. His testimony was read by Mike Eggl, senior vice president of communications and adminstration of Basin Electric Power Cooperative:

NDAREC, along with Touchstone Energy Cooperative partners Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Great River Energy and Minnkota Power Cooperative, made an early decision and commitment to support the expansion of the Heritage Center with a combined gift of about $1.5 million. Recently, several Touchstone Energy Cooperative partners had the chance to tour the Heritage Center expansion. From this visit, it’s clear that this project is shaping up to be a first-class, world-class, showcase of our state’s history and heritage.

In reviewing the additional needs request prepared by the State Historical Society and presented to this committee, we would concur that a project of this magnitude will need to be fully staffed with professionals who are able to design, develop, market and maintain the Center’s exhibits in a way that exceeds the public’s expectations. This expansion has every chance of making our Heritage Center into what some have called a “Smithsonian on the Prairie” in its portrayal of our rich history and heritage. It would be unfortunate if we left the 63rd Legislative Assembly without fully funding the needs request of the State Historical Society to employ a staff of professionals who’ll be the caretakers of this impressive new Heritage Center.

When we made our commitment to the Heritage Center expansion, we did so with the expectation that it would properly portray the contribution we have made to the state’s economic vitality along with the contributions of so many others. As we head into the final years of making this project a reality, we strongly encourage our legislative partners to fully fund and support the needs request of the State Historical Society to make our new Heritage Center a first-class portrayal of who we are as a state and its people. 

Mike Eggl, senior vice president of communications and administration of Basin Electric Power Cooperative:

In 2009 when Basin Electric committed support and resources to the preservation of North Dakota history through monetary and in-kind contributions to assist in the North Dakota Heritage Center expansion project, we had a vision for the Center to become a national and international destination and events center. A place where visitors to the Center could experience and explore the entire history and heritage of North Dakota, including geology, paleontology, natural history, archaeology and the history of all the state’s people.

At that time, only a portion of North Dakota’s heritage and history were on display for the public, even though the expansion of the Heritage Center had been proposed for more than 25 years. It had been projected that collections, space for artifacts, and exhibit spaces would be full and the Center would need more space if it were to truly represent our state’s history. Now the Society is in dire need of well-qualified, educated professionals to deliver that history to those individuals who will visit the new Heritage Center, consume all that it has to offer, investigate and learn our history, and spread the news about what a wonderful history and facility we have here in the state of North Dakota.   

Now that the Heritage Center will have the space for 70 more years of our state history and new exhibit spaces will be in place to tell the story of North Dakota's emerging industries - coal, gas, wind power, agriculture processing, manufacturing and technology - the Society will need new history professionals to tell the story. The last of seven recommendations issued by the 18- member State Historical Society of North Dakota Commission in 2003 was to put in place additional history professionals. The other recommendations have been funded and are about to be fulfilled and this final recommendation will bring to fruition the vision those leaders had for the Center and the State Historical Society.

The result of the Heritage Center’s expansion and its growing requests for services to museum visitors, schools, historic sites and communities is that the State Historical Society will need more history professionals. If our goal is to showcase the accomplishments and endeavors of North Dakotans, we should invest in historians to bring these accomplishments to visitors at the newly expanded Center. These individuals will provide the living link between our historical treasures housed in the Society’s collections and the public owners of those treasures.

It has been said that “all good things come to those who wait;” now is the time to fulfill the expectations and needs of those who have been patiently awaiting the finalization of this wonderful expansion by providing the means to add new history professionals to the staff of the State Historical Society.

Steven Sitting Bear of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, on behalf of Executive Director Scott Davis:

Chairman Holmberg and members of the Committee, my name is Scott J. Davis.  I am a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a descendent of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.  I serve the great state of North Dakota as the Executive Director of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, appointed by our Governor.  I joined the Commission in May of 2009.

The purpose of this testimony is to extend support from the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission for the North Dakota Heritage Center expansion project -- along with its needs.  This is a very important project for both our great state, and also for our five Tribal Nations.

The vision of the Heritage Center “to showcase the world-class accomplishments of North Dakotans” is something (I believe) we as leaders should all support. Recognizing and honoring the contributions of our fellow North Dakota citizens is a fundamental component to embracing the rich history of our State. What better way to accomplish this but with a world-class facility?

This expansion project will greatly benefit not only our state, but also our tribal nations. Tourism is the third largest industry in North Dakota, bringing in $ 4.6 billion a year (2010). This influx of revenue greatly affects our tribal nations as well. Take, for instance, the United Tribes International Pow Wow. This once-a-year, four-day September event alone brings in $4.6 million to our Bismarck community, with most of this revenue coming from external sources. With such an influx of tourism revenue and activity, I believe it’s only sensible to meet the public’s expectations -- both of our citizens and those visiting North Dakota.

This Heritage Center has always played an important role in educating the public about our tribal history’s and culture. With this new expansion it will also embody another important role as well -- the Native American Hall of Honor. This is one of the most groundbreaking and innovative events that has ever happened between the State and our Tribal Nations. This is an extremely important opportunity in recognizing and honoring those North Dakota Tribal Members who have contributed with great sacrifice to the benefit of our North Dakota Community. So this expansion and its success means a great deal to our Tribal Nations.

In closing: when I think of North Dakota, being a proud citizen of this great state, the first word that comes to mind is excellence. This new North Dakota Heritage Center also embodies this word. I hope that this committee supports whatever the needs of this expansion are, whether that be funding for staff or for marketing purposes, to ensure that the quality of the North Dakota experience meets all expectations.

Thank you.

Bruce Schwartz of Bismarck, Past International Director of Lions Club International and SHSND Foundation Expansion Donor:

Merl Paaverud, Director of the State Historical Society, hits it pretty much on the nose when he says, “What makes the buildings come alive, what makes the history come alive, are the people who provide the living link between the historical treasurers housed in the Society collections and their public owners.”

Paaverud also shows great vision when he says, “In order for the Heritage Center expansion to be  successful, services provided in the new facility must meet or exceed the public expectations.  It will take highly trained professional staff to meet those expectations.”

It was also visionary on the part of that 18-member SHSND Commission in 2003 to call for “additional historical professionals” to interpret the history of North Dakota.  They saw what would be glaring needs for the State Historical Society to fill once the expansion project was completed and the new facility was ready to roll.  Passage of this bill is vital if we are to honor the vision of the Society which is to “Showcase the World-Class Accomplishments of North Dakotans”.

I am highly involved with Lions, the great worldwide service organization. At our state convention in 2008, the North Dakota Lions voted unanimously to support the Heritage Center expansion project.  I am very pleased to report to you that the Lions of North Dakota, 110 clubs and about 3000 members in nearly every community in North Dakota, are still very much committed to the success of the Heritage Center.  The North Dakota Lions are hoping that a state convention can be held at the new Heritage Center in the near future.

Do you know what excites me about all this? Let me tell you.  Our great state of North Dakota is the envy of the entire country -- for all kinds of reason -- none of which is the Heritage Center.  So, what are North Dakotans and visitors from all over the world going to say when they visit our Smithsonian, tour the facility, see our unique exhibits, attend programs presented by professional personnel and whatever else.  We all know what their impression will be.  Then, when these visitors leave, they view the facility and grounds and say something like, “I never expected to find something like this in North Dakota”.  That’s what excites me, but we have to have the necessary funding for that to happen.

It seems to me that it would be a serious mistake not to fully fund the needs of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.  Since the days of Governor Art Link, North Dakota has been doing things right with the development of the State Historical Society and the Heritage Center.

Let’s not stop now.  Let’s do it right.  I urge you to vote in favor of House Bill No. 1018.

 Janet Esser of Bismarck, SHSND Foundation History’s Trustee:

My interest in our state museum facilities goes back to my childhood.  My Mom and Dad, both children of immigrants, made sure that we visited the old museum filled with wonderful things like the Native American displays, and made a trip to Medora and the Chateau every summer when we came to North Dakota to visit our families which had settled in the now ghost town of Sims and took up homesteads which grew and prospered over time through their hard work and can do attitude.

Deep-seated in my soul was the saga of the mass migration of Europeans during the late 1800s lured to the Dakotas by promises of opportunities and land ownership. To make this leap of faith took courage beyond what I can really comprehend but it also reflected the strength of self these people had. They came and they brought with them traditions that the Dakotas embraced --  work ethic, customs, the strength of family, integrity -- characteristics that are clearly in evidence today, and blessed by our lonesome locale, the people of North Dakota are today what their ancestors were --- people of character and honesty.

And so, now we have ventured into a new era with our museum.  First and foremost it is with the goal of making our history, beginning with the geological formations of the region, earliest human occupation, the story of the Native Americans, the bond between immigration and the railroad, the settlers stories, the Dirty Thirties, up to now understandable. Once again our state is taking a giant leap forward into the prosperity and changes brought by the natural resources laid down as a bed for this state --- the oil boom. And with this oil boom will come, once again, a migration of people seeking security and a place to set down roots. The cycle begins all over again. Some day this story will be a thing of history.

This facility was a long time coming. It reflects the hopes and dreams of great leaders and an undying resolve to make it happen no matter what. They achieved what they set out to achieve, met goal after goal, found ways to keep the dream afloat when funds just weren't there, and here we are! These leaders have proven themselves over and over again. We have not found reason to be disappointed with their guidance. They sought private funds when asked to do so and met the goals placed before them.

Now it is time to give them that one leap of faith they need to see this undertaking to its fruition. Give them the people they need! How can we do anything less? There is no way we can attempt to walk in their shoes and make better calls about what is needed or not needed than the people who have lived and breathed this project for years.  Let them prove once again that they know what they are doing.

You have to know where you have been in order to know where you are going.

Owen Piehl, 12-year-old son of Marnie and Shadd Piehl of Menoken, was unable to attend but submitted testimony.  He is a grandson of Becky and Walter Piehl of Minot and SHSND Foundation Trustees Dina and Bill Butcher. Owen also made a splash with his testimony during the 2009 Legislative Assembly. In his March 7 remarks, Owen referred to that earlier testimony:

            At that time I wanted the expansion because of all the things that could be incorporated with the extra room.  I thought that expansion would bring more interesting things to learn about such as dinosaur exhibits, the history of the state and many other unique things.

I have enjoyed seeing the expansion as it goes on. I was a part of the groundbreaking, where I stood up with all our elected officials and spoke. I have the golden shovel to remember it by. I hope to be there when it opens in 2014. I’d like to celebrate my 13th birthday at the Heritage Center so I’m hoping the project is completed on time. The only thing that would make it all better is if there were plenty of people there to translate the exhibits and make them come to life.

One of my greatest memories of the Heritage Center is when I got to go behind the scenes and see the Dakota skeleton as they were working on it. One of the things that made it so memorable were the people that were helping us understand more about Dakota and why the discovery was so important.

The staff that helped us made all the difference to me.  I am hoping you will help the Heritage Center hire people they need to make the museum come to life. It’s the people there who help children and adults alike understand the exhibits and appreciate our rich history, which is our ultimate goal, isn’t it?

Audrey Cleary of Bismarck, former legislator and SHSND Foundation History’s Trustee, was unable to attend but submitted testimony:

            We are here this morning for the hearing on HB 1018 which considers the expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center and the need for more professional staff.  The SHSND Board and staff are requesting 22 additional staff positions for the new addition.

During the January legislative reception at the Heritage Center, we toured the new addition.  It is amazing!  Each of the present staff members told us about the new area of the Center which would be their particular space.  They have so many plans already and are so excited about all the wonderful displays they have planned.

The original Heritage Center is a terrific place to visit but the addition is going to blow people away!  The displays and technology will be amazing.

Please consider our request for additional professional staff.  The Heritage Center is a very special place for out-of-town visitors, local families, and schools from all over the state.  It is truly a wonderful, historical, educational facility.

Summary   

What will make the expanded North Dakota Heritage Center come alive will be the people who provide the living link between the historical treasures housed in the Society collections and their public owners. This is where the need arises for additional staff to supplement the professionals already working at the North Dakota Heritage Center. These additional history professionals is the last of seven recommendations issued by the 18-member State Historical Society of North Dakota Commission in 2003. The others have been funded, leaving this final recommendation to be these history professionals to further interpret the history of North Dakota to the public.