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Spotlight on Culture

The Indigenous Nations, our first inhabitants

Post #2- The Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nations


Delegation of Arikaras, Gros Ventres, and Mandans meet with President Grant, 1874. (Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Col. 0384-01-1)

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish (Arikara) live in the Missouri River area. Historians document the first tribes to occupy this area were the Mandan with the Hidatsa, and the Sahnish moving up the river later. These individuals were originally woodland people who moved to the plains at various times.

One theory is that the Mandan moved from the area of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa to the plains in South Dakota about 900 A.D., and slowly migrated north along the Missouri River to North Dakota about 1000 A.D. The Hidatsa moved from central Minnesota to the eastern part of North Dakota near Devils Lake, and moved to join the Mandan at the Missouri River about 1600 A.D. The Mandan and Hidatsa believe they were created in this area and have always lived here.

According to anthropologists, the Sahnish people lived in an area that extended from the Gulf of Mexico, across Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota. These migrations dates of the Three Tribes have been determined by archeological investigation of village sites, constructed along the Missouri and elsewhere. Many of these sites, although collapsed and abandoned long before, were excavated along the Missouri River during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

There may have been as many as 15,000 members before the four smallpox epidemics, and before contact with the Europeans. Now, there are about 14,900 members, with about 6,000 living on the reservation. Most members of the tribe have varying amounts of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara ancestry. There are only about 30 full-blood Mandan and 30 fullblood Hidatsa people remaining. There are more Arikara full bloods. More information can be found here.

In 1995 the North Dakota Historical Society completed the Missouri Trench National Historical Landmark Theme Study, that summarized the archeological investigation of the Missouri River area from southern South Dakota through North Dakota to Montana. Many of the sites were of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish origins. Ethnographers (people who study cultural societies) group people by the languages they used or were likely to be used by a single group at one time. Indian nations were divided into several linguistic groups. The Mandan and Hidatsa tribes belong to the Siouan linguistic group, along with the Crow, Dakota, Lakota, Yanktonai, Assiniboine, Iowa-Oto- Missouri, Quapaw, Omaha-Ponca-Osage-Kansa. The Sahnish belong to the Caddoan linguistic group, along with the Pawnee, Caddo, Wichita, Anadarko, Skidi, Tawakoni and Waco.

Their oral tradition preserved the history and ceremonies of the Tribes through a strict and sacred process they still observe, thereby adding to the validity of oral tradition as a reliable source for historians, and helping modern members learn, recover and continue fostering their traditions and culture among their youth. For more information about these tribes' history, go to the MHA Nation website. They do a very good overview of each tribe's history, situation, past battles and epidemics that decimated them. The North Dakota State Historical Society also has a well documented account, that you can find here. It includes maps and pictures of present and past times.

Mah-to-toh-pa, Four Bears, Second Chief, in Full Dress, 1832. Painting by George Catlin, Smithsonian American Art Museum 1985.66.128

Each tribe maintained separate bands, clan systems, and separate ceremonial bundles- even after they decided to join forces. After the devastation of the small pox epidemics of 1792, 1836, and 1837, homogenous societies evolved for economic and social survival. The three tribes lived in earth lodges, were farmers, hunted wild game and relied heavily on the bison for food, shelter, clothing, and for making various utensils and garden tools. They maintained a vast trading system and were considered middlemen by neighboring tribes with different types of trade products.

Today, the Three Affiliated Tribes, as an official entity, administers many governmental, economic, health, welfare, and educational programs. Located in the Four Bears Complex area, the tribal administration operates in a modern complex of business offices. From this location, The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, the Three Affiliated Tribes, carry out their sovereign responsibility of governance of the reservation and its people. Although federal government policy and various Supreme Court decisions from the early 1960's to the mid-1980's reflected a period of acknowledgment and support tribal sovereignty, as tribal nations practice and assert their sovereign rights, the mood of Congress and the courts have forced the pendulum to move in a direction that seeks to limit the powers of tribal nations.

The reservation lies on both sides of the Missouri, including parts of Dunn, McKenzie, McLean, and Mountrail counties. The seat of tribal government for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation lies four miles west of New Town where The Fort Berthold Agency is, which was formerly situated at Elbowoods until 1953 when it was flooded by the Garrison Dam .

The Four Bears Area includes the tribal administration building, Indian Health Services Clinic and Dialysis Unit, Casey Family Program, Ft. Berthold Day Care, KMHA Radio Station (you can listen live here), MHA Times (tribal newspaper), and the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum. This complex is directly adjacent to the tribe's Four Bears Casino, Lodge, and Recreational Park.

ART and Cultural Expressions

Videos of many cultural expressions and stories, and accounts of where the Nation is by their politicians and business people, all narrated by notable members of the Three Affiliated Tribes

These videos can also be found here.

Tex Hall, Tribal Chair

Edwin Benson, Language Teacher

Hazel Blake, Creation Story

Arline Charging, Making Corn Balls

Mary Elk, Quilts And Beads

Dennis Fox, Director

Jim Wolf, Businessman

Monica Mayer, Medicine Woman

Tom Bird Bear, Politician

Calvin Grinnell, Historian

Invocation, by Edwin Benson & Monica Mayer

The following artist from the Three Affiliated Nations makes and sells original indigenous art

Lauren Good Day

Lauren Good Day “Good Day Woman” is a Multi- award winning Arikara, Hidatsa, Blackfeet and Plains Cree artist. She is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation) of the Ft. Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, and also a registered Treaty Indian with the Sweet Grass Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada.

She has shown her artwork at the world’s most prestigious Native American juried art shows such as the Santa Fe Indian Market in Santa Fe NM, Heard Guild Museum Market in Phoenix AZ, Autry American Indian Arts Marketplace Los Angeles CA, Eiteljorg Museum Indian Market Indianapolis IN, Cherokee Indian Market in Tulsa OK, Red Earth Fine Arts Festival in Oklahoma City OK and the Northern Plains Indian Art Show in Sioux Falls SD. Her Awards include many First Places in Tribal Arts, Traditional Arts, Cultural Arts, Diverse Arts, Beadwork, Drawings, Textiles and the prestigious Best of Tribal Arts award. Lauren’s artwork has been part of numerous solo and group exhibitions at galleries and museums across the Country.

Lauren has always had a passion for promoting and revitalizing the arts of her people while developing new methods and incorporating new ideas. She has been creating Native American art since age 6. Starting out with beadwork and Tribal regalia, she then expanded her work into mediums such as quillwork, ledger drawings, rawhide parfleche, and clothing.

Being a sought after artist and designer her work is in numerous public and private collections throughout the United States, Canada and the World, including the The National Museum of American Indian Washington DC and New York City, The Heard Museum, Phoenix AZ, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Plains Indian Museum Cody Wyoming, and Red Cloud Heritage Center Pine Ridge SD. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Indigenous Studies from the Institute of American Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, NM. Lauren lives on the rolling hills of North Dakota, her traditional homelands. She continues to be steeped within the cultural life ways of her people and actively helps with language and culture revitalization efforts, participates in cultural celebrations, powwows and her tribal ceremonial doings.

Her role as a mother and woman of her tribe guide her to continue on the arts of her people for the generations to come.

You can find her wearable art here. For her Fall/Winter 2020 clothing "Look Book" go here.

For more information about the tribes and their art, visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West Museum's website; the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum in New Town, North Dakota; and to see examples, here.

Music and Dancing

Music Video from Keith Bear- Hidatsa/Mandan Love song

Arikara - Warrior Song

Traditional Dance

Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, Jason Morsette - New Town, ND

Next week we'll continue this series with the Spirit Lake Nation

Stay tuned for more information, and more cultures in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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