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Chapter 5 “Twice-born” from the Waters The Two-Hundred-Year Journey of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Indians Raymond Cross Christian salvatory lore requires that you be “twice-born” from the waters to merit everlasting life. Perhaps in a similar manner, the sacred and secular birth and rebirth of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people from the waters may merit them everlasting life. Their first birth from beneath the waters of Spirit Lake conferred a sacred character on their endeavors to develop an economically and culturally vibrant life along the bottomlands of the upper Missouri River.1 According to the Hidatsa creation story, they came from beneath the waters of Spirit Lake, that body of water nonIndians now call Devils Lake in present-day North Dakota. A vine grew downward into the underworld where the Indians lived beneath the waters. Some of the Hidatsa climbed that vine into the upper world of the sunlight. But a very fat Hidatsa woman pushed her way to the head of the line and when she tried to climb the vine, it broke. Many of the Hidatsa remain, to this day, marooned beneath the waters of Spirit Lake.2 These Indian people’s second birth was from beneath the waters of Lake Sakakawea, the 118-mile-long federal flood control and hydropower reservoir created in 1953 by the world’s fourth-largest earth-filled dam, the Garrison . The creation of Lake Sakakawea—named by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to commemorate the memory of the young Shoshone Indian who assisted the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805–6—required the removal of over 90 percent of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people from their historic settlements along the bottomlands of the Missouri River. Their rebirth from beneath the waters of that manmade lake occurred in 1992 when Congress awarded $149.5 million in just compensation for taking the Garrison.3 The Three Affiliated Tribes must, by statute, use these funds to overcome the social and economic devastation wrought by Lake Sakakawea so as to rebuild their tribal world—which has been constantly 117 undermined by the ongoing encounter with American power since the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. In doing so, the tribes must address the interlacing of sacred and secular duties that confront their people. They will accomplish this by drawing from the strengths that have allowed them to survive the hardship and devastation that has characterized their two-hundred-year relationship with the United States and once again exercise the cultural and economic independence they possessed when they first encountered the American explorers.4 Water, disease, and words—these are the three basic human factors that have defined the long relationship between the United States and these Indian people from 1804 to the present. My essay evaluates how the interaction of these three human factors, and their different significance for Indians and non-Indians, have fundamentally altered the tribal life worlds of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people over the course of two-hundred years. I divide this span of two centuries into four key historical periods, concluding with a fourth human factor—hope—to illustrate how these Indian people’s enduring resilience and tenacity will enable them to survive and perhaps even triumph over their ongoing hardships. The ultimate “test case” of my hypothesis evaluates the likelihood that these Indian people will recover from the federally engineered destruction wreaked in 1953 by the flooding of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. Disease, particularly smallpox, is the human factor that dominates the first historical period, from the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1804 to the devastating epidemic of 1837 that forced the surviving members of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes to consolidate within one village. Words, those contained in an 1886 federal agreement between these Indian people and the United States, open my second historical period. This agreement created the contemporary Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and obligated the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people to farm and ranch the bottomlands along the Missouri River. Through arduous effort these Indian people had clearly lived up to the words of the 1886 agreement by recreating a self-sufficient agricultural economy and a renewed tribal cultural life within the forbidding environment of the Fort Berthold reservation in northwestern North Dakota. But in 1949 the federal government chose to break its word by taking the Indians’ last remaining river bottomlands as the site for the...


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