FARGO — Native American activists and Cass County Sheriff's Department leaders met for two hours at the courthouse Monday night, July 20, to discuss the 24 hour unpaid suspension of a jail employee who posted an "insensitive" video depicting a Native American stereotype and other issues.
Although protest organizer Henry Gipp, of Fargo, said they were only given "lip service" and "scraps" by Sheriff Jesse Jahner, Chief Deputy Michele Harmon, department spokesman Lt. Tim Briggeman and Detective Joe Gress, three Native American women who accompanied Gipp thought they took some positive steps forward.
Gipp called for the firing of Deputy Tamara "Tori" Holland, but he told about 25 protesters outside the courthouse that the sheriff "wasn't budging."
He and others thought her firing would send a strong signal that the department wouldn't tolerate any form of racism.
"I wanted action," Gipp said.
Jahner, however, said he was sticking by his decision. He told the group he would report to them if Holland attended the diversity training, Fargo Human Relations Commission and City Native American Commission meetings she was assigned after posting the video.
Holland's now-deleted video featured a voiceover from another person on TikTok that suggested her car drives her to the liquor store every time she starts it. The video was labeled #nativeamerican, #liquorstore and #funny, among other hashtags.
Holland said it was never her intention to be racist. She is not Native American but has Indigenous relatives.
She apologized for the post and cooperated with the sheriff's office's internal investigation, which was conducted by Gress.
Some on social media called the video racist and joined Gipp in demanding the sheriff's office fire Holland. Others said this should be used as an opportunity to educate others on why the stereotype is harmful to Native Americans.
Jahner said the video "perpetuate(s) Native American stereotypes." He also said Holland's actions put his office's efforts to build trust with the community, as well as to treat people of all races equally, in jeopardy.
"I believe we have an unbiased department," he said.
The sheriff said he felt "educational-type" discipline was appropriate in this instance. It could "turn a negative decision or action into an opportunity for the Cass County Sheriff's Office and its employees to gain knowledge and build positive relationships with our Native American culture and other ethnic groups," he said.
Jahner said he discussed Holland's punishment with her supervisors and several local Native American leaders before making a final decision.
Monday's meeting was a continuation of talks with Native American representatives, he said.
As the four met with sheriff's department officials, protesters stood vigil outside the courthouse waiting to see what may happen.
Faith Dixon, a leader in the local Black Lives Matter group, said she was there to show support for "Native Lives Matter."
"Justice needs to be served," she said.
Clara Derby, of Fargo, also in the protest crowd, said, "We need to hold people in power accountable.
"We need to uphold basic human dignity," she said.
Representing Native Americans in talks with the sheriff were Ambrosia Howell-Yellow Bird, Audra Stonefish and Tracey Wilkie, a Democrat from Fargo who is running for a state House seat in District 16.
Howell-Yellow Bird said the sheriff seemed receptive to having an advisory committee of Indigenous and Black people if a similar situation arose again.
The sheriff said he made it clear that although he was willing to listen and take input on any issues that arose, he was elected to make the final decision.
As for Holland, Wilkie said she has always believed in "second chances" and she hoped the deputy would learn and grow through her training and meetings.
"It could turn out to be a beautiful thing," Wilkie said.
Stonefish added that by talking with top department officials they "gained a seat at the table," and with the current climate she said they needed to "take advantage of the situation and make positive changes."
Gipp also organized a demonstration for July 4 at the William L. Guy Federal Building and Courthouse in Bismarck to demand an investigation into his brother's death at the hands of two Bureau of Indian Affairs officers be reopened.
George "Ryan" Gipp Jr. was fatally shot five times in October 2017 on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The officers were not criminally charged.
Henry Gipp and others dispute statements by the U.S. Attorney's Office that federal authorities thoroughly investigated the case.