The name of the timeline “History of the Heart of the World” is a translation of what the Mandan people call this area, presently known by many as North Dakota. It is also described as the heart of Turtle Island, the name many Indigenous peoples have given North America.
This timeline was constructed to reflect the Native history within the southwestern portion of North Dakota, and the United States policies that affected the environment of the area. As a Ho-Chunk and Native person, I need to acknowledge that time in reference to Indigenous communities is not always viewed as linear and the presentation of events in this format does not convey this. Given this cultural difference, the origins of Indigenous communities, in particular, is not always acknowledged for being as old as they are because there are no specific dates to correlate to these significant events. This timeline is not a complete history of the region but it is the beginning of a visual representation to depict the long and diverse history of southwestern North Dakota.
The experience of going to Dickinson, North Dakota, and seeing the buildings erected by German-Russian immigrants and the other changes this region has gone through, left me in a state of curiosity and confusion. The community has seen many changes in recent decades due to the resources that the American Plains has to offer, like oil, and now wind energy. Over the course of these developments and changes, there seems to be little done to preserve the history in between these surges in population. For a project based on this experience, I decided to focus on the Indigenous history that seemed less present in what we were reading and hearing about the region, despite the fact it is just as much a part of the history of southwestern North Dakota. The goal was to re-insert Native history and experience within the historical narrative of Dickinson and the surrounding area.
Before arriving in Dickinson, research was conducted on the area and it was already understood that there were limited contemporary resources that depicted the Native people of the area. The main resource that was provided prior to our travel included an archaeological report. From this report, the only mention of an indigenous people was this unnamed group and, what I assume is typical of archaeology work, they neglected to acknowledge a present people to relate this report to. Another gap of this report included that the writers didn’t draw conclusions based on traditional knowledge or Indigenous research methods.
When searching for material culture objects around the town of Dickinson, there are a few cultural and historic institutions. The Dickinson Museum Center offers histories like the Badlands Dinosaur Museum and Joachim Regional Museum that begins with the local history of the expansion of the railroad. This institution focuses on various histories and yet has neglected to highlight the history of the large portion of time between dinosaurs and the pioneers of western expansion.
During our trip, I imagined that I would be able to witness indigenous presence whether it would be in the names of roads, roadside attractions, or even in the community. I was wrong. This old town with new roads and businesses did not include images, names, or subtle signals of cultural influences outside of the Indian Head highway markers. It was a blank slate and lacked an identity of the history of the region.
Any material culture of Native American provenance is limited in the region. A great deal of the evidence that suggests indigenous people occupied this area is through archaeological evidence, much like that of the dinosaurs found in the Badlands Dinosaur Museum. The only other materials of Native American affiliated material of this region were passed along to me and are a part of the Southwestern North Dakota Digital Archives. The images were taken during the Dickinson State College homecoming parade. The image of the Dickinson State College male student captioned as “possibly the Chief” while wearing Plains Native regalia as a costume represents the non-Native’s skewed understanding of Native history and cultures of North Dakota.
I have had limited interaction with the state of North Dakota but I have visited and had the opportunity to research mascots in the past. During this research on University of North Dakota’s since renamed “Fighting Sioux,” I realized the individuals that were against its renaming resonated with what I was witnessing in Dickinson. The lack of empathy for what is believed to be an “honoring” does not seem to be incorporated into any other facet of life in Dickinson and therefore how could this dress-up honor anything when there is no representation in the community, its history, or in its public acknowledgment. In order to honor a people, shouldn’t the ones that are alive today and, descending from honorable “Indians”, be given enough respect to show that non-Natives can truly honor a people?
The recent approaches to research for the timeline included locating primarily written materials about the indigenous groups that are currently near Dickinson. The Three Affiliated Tribes of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara were the primary tribal histories that were sought out. Unfortunately, a majority of the materials that were found were dated sources, most of which were written by non-Natives and did not include many first-hand accounts or interviews of Native people but the observation of Native people.
Initially, this portion was going to be made up of various oral histories of both Native and non-native community members. Given the timing of the new mid-term election requirements, many tribal members did not get back and it is understood that there were far more important matters at hand. I understand that distant inquiries concerning Native history are typically done with poor intent and meeting individuals via email does not have the same impact as in person. Given that relationships could not be built before contacting the community, the oral history goal was unable to be met at this time.
Reading about and exploring the history of this area proved to be very rewarding. I learned a lot about a region I was not too familiar with. The Siouan language family bond that I share with the Mandan tribe sparked my interest since there are different landscapes we call home and we each have different cultural traditions, but Ho-Chunk and Mandan come from the same language family.
If this project could be continued, I would conduct more oral histories of both Native and non-Native community members. I would plan to reach out to members of the Three Affiliated Tribes to learn more about the landscape, how it was used, and how they were able to make it in the harsh winters. While we were in Dickinson and meeting with families, most of them brought up how they needed to make homes before winter came. I am curious that while this landscape was new to immigrants, how could these indigenous groups of people survive for so long in the harsh open Plains without built stone structures to protect them? In line with the oral traditions of Native people, I would like to know what it was like before the railroad brought new residents and how the ecology of the land changed. The landscape included a number of small hills with pointed peaks that stood out from the rest of the forms along the highways. It was an interesting landscape that made me curious about how the hill peaks were formed.
- “1984 Dickinson State College, Homecoming Parade and Royalty,” Southwestern North Dakota Digital Archive At the Dickinson Museum Center, accessed December 21, 2018. ↵