October 28, 2011

Remaking heritage by reclaiming the landscape

Remaking heritage by reclaiming the landscape
By Jerry W. Kram
“Something’s lost but something’s gained” goes the old Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now.” That is the core of a paper published by two scholars of the history of the Fort Berthold Reservation and researchers from the University of Arizona on how the creation of Lake Sakakwea has affected the traditions and heritage of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people.
Calvin Grinnell with the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum in New Town and Elgin Crows Breast from the Tribal Historic Preservation Office collaborated with Wendi Field Murray, Namia Nieves Zedeno and Kacy Hollenback from the University of Arizona on the paper titled “The remaking of Lake Sakakawea” in the scholarly journal American Ethnologist.
The paper argues that the loss of nine communities and the most fertile and productive land on the reservation was a huge blow to the tribes and constituted a “negative heritage” or painful memory. Not only did the people lose there homes and livelihoods, they lost burial grounds and cemeteries, sacred sites and the river itself. Families were split as the lake made travel north and south difficult. The paper states that the Missouri River is central to the Mandan and Hidatsa creation stories and Arikara ceremonies also centered around the river.
“The paper started with an idea I’ve had that our culture has been whittled away over the years,” Crows Breast said. “It’s been under attack from the modern economic society. Even here in New Town a lot of people don’t know we still have our ceremonies. We have our powwows, but I am talking about our religious ceremonies – the rainmaking ceremony, sun dance ceremony, pipe ceremony and sweat lodge ceremonies.”

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