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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published April 14 2012

New Town mobile home park residents protest eviction for workers

NEW TOWN, N.D. – About 50 people paraded through this northwestern city of 2,000 people Saturday chanting “People over profits” and carrying signs such as “Relocation ended in the ’70s” to protest the eviction of mobile home court residents.

Residents of 45 trailers – many of them the poorest members of the Three Affiliated Tribes – have until Aug. 31 to move after the mobile home park was sold with plans to develop it to house oil workers.

Future Housing LLC bought the property and plans to construct housing for employees of United Prairie Cooperative, formerly Cenex of New Town.

Protestors marched and participated in a vehicle procession through the trailer court, past the offices of United Prairie Cooperative and to the two Cenex stations in New Town.

“We just want to be heard,” said resident Becky Deschamp.

Valerian Three Irons of New Town, who protested in support of the mobile home park residents, said the business should work to find an alternative solution.

Residents worry they’ll be homeless due to a severe housing shortage in the area. Many of the trailers are in such poor condition they can’t be moved.

“These are real people, real families with children,” Three Irons said. “Where are they going to go?”

Many of the protestors called for a boycott of Cenex.

“There has to be a conscience and responsibility to the community by business,” Three Irons said.

Mark Skibsrud, one of the few residents of the mobile home park who is not an enrolled member of the tribe, carried a sign that read “I’m white. I’m not used to getting displaced.”

“Big money should not just be able to buy out the little people and tell us we have to move,” Skibsrud said. “I’m not against progress, but this is more exploitation than anything else.”

John Reese, the CEO and general manager of United Prairie Cooperative and agent for Future Housing LLC, has said the company is trying to work with the residents. Initially, the eviction deadline was set for May 1, but it’s been postponed until Aug. 31.

Reese said in an interview last month the housing shortage in the area makes it difficult for him to find employees. Available land to develop housing is also difficult to find, he said.

“Right now, anything that’s available that has water and sewer on it is very attractive to anybody that’s trying to continue to grow their business,” Reese said.

On Saturday, Reese said he was aware of the protest but he was out of town planting potatoes.

Many of the signs and chants targeted Reese directly.

“I’m just fine with taking the rock beating,” Reese said. “When the housing complex is done, all races will live there.”

Several signs referenced the tribal members who were displaced in the 1950s by the construction of Garrison Dam and the creation of Lake Sakakawea, which put hundreds of homes under water. New Town was founded for the displaced residents and is the largest city on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Theodora Bird Bear of Mandaree participated in the protest in support of the residents. Bird Bear said while United Prairie Cooperative is playing a role in this situation, the tribe and federal officials also need to protect tribal members from effects of oil development.

“There needs to be planning done,” Bird Bear said.

Wayne Stubstad, who owned the park for 31 years before deciding to retire, has said he first offered to sell it to the tribe but got no response.

Judy Brugh, a tribal councilwoman who helped organize the protest, said Stubstad talked about it with individual members but did not formally bring it to the council.

“It was never brought to the table,” Brugh said.

Tribal leaders have identified land east of New Town for possible development of a new mobile home park, Dennis Fox, CEO for the tribe, has said.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has said he plans to send a letter to President Obama asking that FEMA trailers now being used by flooded Minot residents be made available to address housing needs on North Dakota reservations. Some of those trailers could be used to help the displaced New Town residents.

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.