Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


april 7, 2001 - Issue 33



Blending Three Tribes Into One Book is a Challenge


by Dorreen Yellowbird Grand Forks Herald

What will make these publication unique is some historic information, stories and narratives that have been told for the first time from the elders to our own people for this book.

On Wednesday, I traveled to western North Dakota to finalize work on a tribal cultural project for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, do an interview at Spirit Lake and just see if my brother was telling the truth when he said they have summer in that part of the state already.

I have to admit he was right. I also was surprised that there is still a lot of snow left in the Devils Lake and Rugby areas, but the farther west I traveled, the more bare ground I could see. It is evident that the Spirit of Winter is moving backward faster and faster. It is low to the ground now, and you can almost hear its low and throaty growl. But one more glance and he will turn tail and leave the area -- at least for this year.

As I neared home and reached the high spot just after the right turn to Parshall, I could see Saddle and Blue buttes far in the distance, like paper cutouts against the evening sky. From this point on North Dakota Highway 23, you can see the plains as they roll toward the lowlands along the Missouri river. The view from this high spot brought strange and haunting memories that didn't seem to belong to me. They filled my head as I drove west toward the river and New Town.

Our meeting in the Events Center of the tribe's Four Bears Casino was like those we've had for nearly five years. We are almost finished with a publication about the Three Affiliated Tribes, but the work hasn't been without anguish, hurt feelings and frustration.

Why has it been so difficult? Our task back in 1995 was to develop a narrative of the three tribes -- Sahnish (Arikara), Mandan and Hidatsa.

Surprisingly, it wasn't the tribes that initiated the project. It was the Department of Public Instruction. In the North Dakota curriculum, they realized and the tribes agreed, there is a lack of information -- good and accurate information -- about Native people, the largest ethnic group in North Dakota.

The Lakota people at Standing Rock, the Dakota at Spirit Lake and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa struggle, too. But their books are complete and already published and have been added to the curriculum of North Dakota schools.

The Three Affiliated Tribes' book is on the verge of completion. At first, the thought was that each tribe should write its own book. It wasn't until after several months of writing and about 200 pages had been completed, that it was decided that all three tribes should collaborate on producing one book. This meant three different tribal groups, with different cultures becoming one group for this book. That mandate brought back memories of the days when the Bureau of Indian Affairs lumped tribes together with little thought to the differences in cultures.

But then and now, the Sahnish, Mandan and Hidatsa struggled on and achieved their goal.

In the meetings with these groups, there were disagreements on what should be included and even on whether some of the journals and writings about our tribes were correct. We all knew that you could pick up many of the books that are used in schools and universities and find blatant errors about our people. That was what we set out to correct. The problem was in agreeing what should be included.

We are now in the final edit of the piece. There are fewer pages than the other tribes' publications because of printing limitations and costs, but all in all, it will be a good addition to the school systems in North Dakota.

What will make these publications unique is some historic information, stories and narratives that have been told for the first time from the elders to our own people for this book.

I am pleased with my contributions to the book, but there isn't anyone who has been involved intimately in the project that won't admit we'll have wounds from the debates and frustration of telling our story.

For those who are interested in North Dakota's histories of the Dakota, Lakota, Chippewa, Sahnish, Mandan and Hidatsa people, all of the books should be available for the schools in the fall.

Yellow Bird's e-mail address is or she can be reached at (701) 780-1228.



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