Published on December 25, 2012 by Amy
The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation is a U.S. Indian reservation in western North Dakota that is home for the federally recognized Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. Created in 1870, the reservation is a small part of the lands originally reserved to the tribes by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which allocated nearly 12 million acres (49,000 km²) in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.
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Created in 1870 by the U.S. government, the reservation is located on the Missouri River in (in descending order of reservation land) McLean, Mountrail, Dunn, McKenzie, Mercer and Ward counties. The reservation consists of 988,000 acres (4,000 km²), of which 457,837 acres (1,853 km²) are owned by Native Americans, either as individual allotments or communally by the tribe. Allotments were assigned in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when the US government was trying to have Native Americans adopt European-American land use patterns. The tribe retained some communal holdings and has resisted continued individual allotments since its reorganization in the 1930s. The McLean National Wildlife Refuge lies within its boundaries.
The reservation was named after a United States Army fort located on the northern bank of the Missouri River some twenty miles downstream from the mouth of the Little Missouri River.
In 1951, after numerous large floods caused by the Missouri River, the US Congress passed a special act that authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to do a sophisticated study of the Missouri River and to find some solutions to the flooding problem. They came up with a plan that called numerous dams along the length of the Missouri and began to get to work making the dam. The first dam to be built was the Garrison Dam which was built nearby the center of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. At this time, the area proposed to be flooded by a reservoir named Lake Sakakawea, this area was the cultural center of the Three Affiliated Tribes. Their tribal capital Elbowoods was located there and so was some of their other towns like Independence. These natives were very self-reliant and were able to farm their own food. They lived in perfect harmony and unity until the US Government did away with their way of life. After the building of the Garrison Dam, the engineers began to by land from the white people living in the area. However, they ended up forcing the Indian Council of the Three Affiliated Tribes to sign off most of their land which amounted to the most fertile land of North Dakota. After this, many Indians were dispersed and displaced from their homes and ancestral lands and forced to live on the high buttes surrounding the rivers. This had a very negative effect on the tribes of the Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara. They were forced from their bountiful fields in the valley to live on the high butte which contained much poor soil with much more harsh winters. Some brave Indians stayed in the reservation but many accepted the US proposal to go and live among urban America so that they would be incorporated into society. This split and broke up their tribal bonds and many Indians became destitute in the cities, becoming homeless and they resorted to alcoholism and other means. Even today, there is a small fraction of these native peoples living on this reservation due to the ill-fated incorporation idea of Congress. Lake Sakakawea has become a large scar on the face of Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and for some who still remember the times before the dam, this is a painful memory.
The population of the reservation was 3776, with a total enrollment of 8400 registered tribe members. Unemployment was at 42%. The 2000 census reported a reservation population of 5,915 persons living on a land area of 1,318.895 sq mi (3,415.923 km²). The creation of Lake Sakakawea increased the proportion of water area on the reservation; it totals 263.778 sq mi (683.182 km²) or one-sixth of the reservation’s surface area.
The largest communities of the reservation are the cities of New Town and Parshall. The tribe operates a casino built in 1993 in New Town. The Four Bears Bridge, which opened in 2005, provides access across the Missouri River.