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The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations

Located in northwestern North Dakota is the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation which is home to the "Three Affiliated Tribes" of the Mandan, the Hidatsa and the Arikara nations.

The Mandan were among the earliest residents of the Great Plains, having migrated there during the 1400s (ENAT, 123-125). They were firmly rooted into the land around the Missouri River when Lewis and Clark spent the winter with them in 1804. The Mandan lived in permanent villages composed of earthen lodges and engaged in a wide variety of agriculture. Like most tribes of the plains, they also took to the plains in annual buffalo hunts to supplement their diet. The Mandan were friendly to white visitors to their lands and paid a terrible price for that friendliness. In 1837 they were affected with smallpox, a totally alien disease. In that year the Mandan nation of over 1600 was reduced to a mere 125 survivors! In 1845, the few remaining Mandan moved voluntarily to the Fort Berthold Reservation.

The Hidatsa were the northern neighbors of the Mandan, also living along the banks of the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota. The Hidatsa, like the Mandan were essentially farmers and lived in permanent villages (ENAT, 92-93) . Their lifestyle was similar to that of the Mandan, but their language more closely resembled Sioux and their religious ceremonies differed in certain aspects.

Like the Mandan, they were visited by the Lewis and Clark expedition, remained friendly with white travelers and suffered the same ghastly fate. Prior to 1837, the Hidatsa numbered over 3,000 divided between ten villages. In 1845, the 50 souls who escaped the smallpox plague moved to the Fort Berthold Reservation.

The third tribe, the Arikaras, or Rees, got their name from their ancient custom of wearing two upright bones in their hair. The word "arikara" means "horns" (ENAT, 23-29). The Arikara (pronounced A-Rick-a-ra) were the southern neighbor of the Mandan, just as the Hidatsa lived to their north. The three tribes shared lifestyle and customs and lived quite peacefully with one another, though they did face raids from the much larger Sioux nation. These raids were usually in search of more horses, a commodity of great import on the plains, especially when hunting buffalo. Unlike the Mandan and Hidatsa, the Arikaras did fight with white settlers, attacking a band of whites in 1823.

By 1851, the Arikara had settled many villages throughout their range. They suffered through the great smallpox epidemic of 1837, but survived in greater numbers than their neighbors. A second epidemic killed even more Arikara and by 1862 they joined their former neighbors on the Fort Berthold Reservation. In 1871, the federal government designated the Fort Berthold reservation as the permanent home for these three nations. Since that time, due to the small numbers of survivors, these three peoples have actedas one, though keeping their identities and customs alive.

The Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation first used a white flag bearing the seal of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in the center. That seal was oval in shape, wider to the sides than vertically (sample seal provided by the Tribal HQ of the Three Affiliated Tribes). On a light blue background appears, in natural colors, a map of the Fort Berthold Reservation, including the bright blue of Lake Sakakawea which runs through the reservation. Over the reservation map was a bald eagle in natural coloring holding a ceremonial tribal lance bedecked in eagle feathers. Circling the seal was a white band bearing the three tribal names, the combined designation as the "Three Affiliated Tribes" and the date May 15, 1936, the date the three tribes began governing themselves. All lettering was in black.

In 1997, the three tribes adopted a new seal which has been added to the new flag. The new, circular seal features a landscape in which a hill is the most prominent feature. From the hill can be seen smoke signals rising into the sky. Surrounding the landscape are the names of the three tribes in black letters, edged in white. All lettering lies upon a red background. From the base of the seal comes four ears of maize (corn). The kernels of each ear are a different color, one red, one black, one yellow, one white. These are the four sacred colors to Native tribes across the continent (see the Miccasoukee). Below these are three eagle feathers, one for each of the three tribes. The new seal bring to the forefront the tribal names which had been all but ignored in the old seal. Now, the sad connotation involved in the use of the name Fort Berthold is subsumed and the re-emergence of the three great nations of North Dakota is celebrated in the graphic that is the new tribal seal.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603