October 23, 2014

A beacon for our warriors


Tribal center to serve all veterans

By Jerry W. Kram

Cold and wind moved the ceremony indoors, but the weather could dampen the spirits of area veterans and their families who gathered in the Johnny Bird Center in Four Bears for the groundbreaking of the new MHA Tribal Veterans Center.

Bill Hale, Jr., Service Officer for the Veterans Affairs Office in New Town, said the construction on the project would begin in earnest in the spring. The project has been in the works for quite a while but Hale has been involved since January.

"It’s taken a long time," Hale said. "Just the realty part, getting a lease and all the documentation for the BIA took over three months to get done. But as soon as the snow is gone in the spring, we’ll be ready to go."

The area where the center will sit is on top of a large hill. Hale said veterans will be able to see many miles in every direction. They will be able to see culturally important places like the Thunder Buttes and Blue Buttes.

"What better people to protect and serve our culture than our veterans?" Hale asked.

Surveys of the area for archeological remains are ongoing, but Hale asked Gerard Baker to inspect the area before the project moved forward. Baker is member of the Three Affiliated Tribes and was an archeologist for the National Park Service for 25 years at the Knife River Indian Villages.

Baker said there are tepee rings and other evidence of activity on the site. However, he felt that the teepee rings were probably made may tribal nations who came to trade with the Mandan and Hidatsa. He said, for one thing, that the site is too far from the old bank of the river to have been part of a permanent camp.

The project has been approved by the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and the Tribal Natural Resource Office.

Baker also said that while there may be native remains on the site, they are also unlikely to be Mandan or Hidatsa because it was their custom to bury their family members close to their homes and there isn’t any indication of an old village in the area. Baker said that while the site of the veterans center was sacred, just about every square foot of the MHA Nation is sacred and the important thing was to do development in as respectful a manner as possible.

"I think we are all concerned about that place," Baker said. "Bill came to me and asked me walk the ground and bless it. I was happy to do so. These things are alive and have spirits and they have to be respected."

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