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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Earth Lodge At Archway Builds Bond
by Mike Konz - The Kearney (NE) Hub Managing Editor
credits: photos courtesy of Cory Spotted Bear
KEARNEY — When the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma returns to Kearney for a powwow in June, its members will be getting building lessons from their long lost cousins, the Arikara of North Dakota.

Plans are rapidly coming together to build an authentic earth lodge near the Great Platte River Road Archway.

Decades ago, some American Indian tribes of Nebraska occupied earth lodges built of saplings, earth and sod stacked over frames of heavy timbers.

The lodges were a part of Pawnee life along the North Loup and Platte rivers of south-central Nebraska, but after their forced exit in 1875, the Pawnees lost their knowledge of earth lodge construction.

However, the lodges remain at the center of Arikara life, and so tribal members are looking forward to teaching their brothers from Oklahoma a time-lost craft.

"There are no nails. It's cool in the summer and warm in the winter. You use the materials around you," is how Jasper "Jazz" Young Bear describes an earth lodge.

Young Bear will be among a delegation of Arikaras and others from the Fort Berthold Reservation coming on Monday to meet with archway officials and to assess whether materials for the lodge can be collected in the Kearney area.

At one time a Pawnee band, the Arikara split off from the tribe 300 to 500 years ago. Today, the Arikara share the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota with the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. Together, the tribes are the MHA Nation, and dotting their land are oil wells and earth lodges.

"The entire reservation, everywhere you go, you see the earth lodges," said Gary Roubicek, the archway's executive director.

Roubicek visited the Arikaras in February to lay plans for the June 18-19 powwow.

While in North Dakota, he noted the Arikara use the lodges as community gathering sites. One has a 90-foot diameter. However, while it's rare that Arikaras inhabit earth lodges, they employ humbler versions as sheds and chicken coops, Roubicek said.

The June 18-19 powwow was originally conceived as a time for the Pawnee and Arikara to reunite, but when the topic of earth lodges came up, members of both tribes became excited.

Although they don't have earth lodges on their Oklahoma reservation, the Pawnee take pride in an exhibit at Chicago's Field Museum that features a Pawnee lodge.

Cory Spotted Bear, who will be among the North Dakota delegation that visits Kearney Monday, said the project wouldn't be the first time building a lodge has brought tribes together.

He said last summer the Lower Brule Tribe of South Dakota invited his friends and him to build a lodge along the Missouri River. Spotted Bear said several Pawnees heard about the project and came to see it.

"They said there was a gathering in Kearney, and there were 12,000 people there," Spotted Bear said. "We heard from them about the powwow."

Construction of the structure near Kearney would begin soon after this summer's powwow.

The archway had long-range plans to build a $400,000 earth lodge education center with modern features and adjacent restrooms. The archway had secured a pledge from the Kearney Area Visitors Bureau, a state economic development grant and a private donation totaling more than $130,000, but lacked other commitments, and so it was indefinite when the lodge might be built.

The Arikara and Pawnee tribes' interest has changed everything, Roubicek said. Costs can be reduced significantly, especially if cottonwood and cedar trees can be harvested in the Kearney area.

For the 60-foot diameter structure, builders will need 350 cedar trees and 150 cottonwoods, said Ronnie O'Brien, the archway's education director and powwow coordinator.

Last week, O'Brien and Roger Jasnoch of the Kearney Area Visitors Bureau traveled to North Dakota and learned if the lodge is to be built in June, trees must be felled soon so they can cure before construction.

O'Brien had been searching for grants and donations for the $400,000 lodge, but the outlook was that construction wouldn't occur for at least a year.

However, with both tribes interested in building this summer, progress has accelerated since she returned from North Dakota.

"In a week's time, we've made a huge amount of progress. The two tribes definitely want this to happen," O'Brien said.

Spotted Bear said he views the Kearney lodge as a chance to bond spiritually with his Pawnee brothers.

"It's going to be a collaboration between young men from Fort Berthold and from the Pawnee. As we build the lodge, we'll share that with them."

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