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Editors Note: there is no Human Rights Commission in North Dakota so Hate crimes abound. This is the first such committee in the state.]


Fargo human relations panel holds first meeting
By Matthew Von Pinnon
The Forum - 11/18/2000

Meeting for the first time, members of Fargo’s Human Relations Commission said Friday they want to educate the public about discrimination issues and respond to human rights violations.

Mayor Bruce Furness said the commission could also recognize people in the community who have addressed human rights issues and serve as a clearinghouse for those wanting more information or support.

“When we get calls in the mayor’s office having to do with discrimination, we don’t necessarily know where to send them,” Furness said. “This is a way for us to address those situations.”

He said the commission was formed to address human rights issues in the city before they become a major problem. But he said it is not intended to enforce federal and state laws that are already in place.

Fargo’s planning department will hire a full-time staff member to work half time on the commission’s directives.

Planning Director Jim Gilmour and Senior Planner Jessica Thomasson will work with commissioners Yoke-Sim Gunaratne and Janeen Kobrinsky to hire that employee.

Gunaratne, who works for Cultural Diversity Resources in Moorhead, and Cheryl Bergian, an attorney with Migrant Legal Services in Fargo, said the commission can provide a place for those who have been discriminated against to solve problems using mediation, not litigation.

Kobrinsky, a lay rabbi at Fargo’s Temple Beth El, said as the city grows, it will have to deal with the added diversity of its people.

Vijendra Agarwal, a physics professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said he’s serving on the board so he can give back to the community.

And Nate Aalgaard, who works for Moorhead’s Freedom Resource Center, said he was interested in “opening up people’s minds” to those with disabilities.

Rounding out the nine-person commission are: Tom Fiebiger, a Fargo attorney; Barry Nelson, vice president of development at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, Fargo; Doreen Holding Eagle, who works at Good Medicine Indian Health in Fargo; and Mary Larson, a real estate agent with Fargo’s Coldwell Banker.

Those four commissioners were not at Friday’s meeting.

Furness said commissioners were appointed based on their “broad background in diversity issues.” He said 25 people were nominated to serve on the commission.

“We are excited about the possibilities this (commission) might mean for Fargo,” said Furness, who noted the city’s refugee population has grown considerably in the past few years.

“We didn’t want to view that as a problem, but as an opportunity.”

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