A day of homecoming for the Hidatsa

North Dakota Tribe welcomes the return of a portion of their ancestral land in a ceremony featuring old traditions and new

Photo: Robert Leitner An American Legion Honor Guard from New Town, MHA Nation.

Photo: Robert Leitner
An American Legion Honor Guard from New Town, MHA Nation.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

In the same week that American Indians celebrated the 90th anniversary of being recognized as American Citizens with the right to vote, another celebration was taking place in a small town of Stanton, N.D., with a ceremony of “Homecoming” of the Hidatsa Tribe to 55 acres as a cultural anchor to their Knife River Homeland, where they resided during Lewis and Clark times and over generations of time.

This day of homecoming for the Hidatsa’s in 2014 was a celebration for “coming full circle” in historical time and building new futures for the next generation.

A Tribal honor guard of American Legion veterans, with feather bonnets and marching in pow-wow steps, led a long line of Tribal leaders with headdresses mounted on horses, followed by adult members and youth on horseback and a string of people on foot.

The drum beat and chanted honor songs filled the air, which echoed across the prairies. In the coolness of an overcast day, many attending were wrapped in trading blankets and star quilts. Elders, some in wheelchairs, tapped their feet and bobbed their heads in beat with the drums. Young children in a line of lawn chairs were quietly soaking up their cultural heritage.

The portion of the ancestral land was purchased and donated to the MHA Nation by Tillie (Peppermint Sprout-HishuAdeah) and Reba (Corn Silk-Abi’) Walker, sisters, and dedicated in honor of their father, the late Hans Young Bird Walker. The sisters are gifting the property to the Tribe for a proposed interpretative center.

Photo: Robert Leitner Leaders and patriots honor the flag.

Photo: Robert Leitner
Leaders and patriots honor the flag.

The Hidatsa Tribe is one of the Three Affiliate Tribes of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation that were moved to the Ft. Berthold Reservation in the late 19th century and later organized with sovereign tribal government in 1934.

This historic parcel of land where the Knife River flows into the Missouri River is bounded to the north by the U.S. Park Service Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, established 40 years ago. To the south is the city of Stanton, population 366, said to be the oldest N.D. town west of the Missouri River, which was chartered 136 years ago,
The 7-Trails Trading Post, which also houses the Stanton City Library until a new facility currently on the drawing board is finished, is adjacent to the Park and now has new neighbors from the Tribe that borders the Trading Post’s five acres.

The history of a grass-roots group of citizens dates back to the early 1970s, when the Knife River Indian Heritage Foundation (KRIHF) was conceived. Local residents, many with partial Indian heritage, saw the need to preserve the land and petitioned Congress, through the US Park Service, to reserve this parcel as a National Site. In 1974, the Park was established and today the citizen group, with a dual board of both Natives and non-Natives, continues to support the Park as an official “Friends Group.”

With the combined educational resources of the Park, the Stanton library, the 7-Trails Trading Post workshops that have been offered by KRIHF, the City of Stanton and the County Courthouse across the road, and the proposed future interpretative center by MHA–all give promise of combined progress to develop the cultural heritage of the land through the voices of those who lived it or understand it through the historic documents from libraries, museums or oral history.

Photo: Robert Leitner Chairman Tex Hall of the MHA Nation leads the "Homecoming" parade to the Knife River homeland.

Photo: Robert Leitner
Chairman Tex Hall of the MHA Nation leads the “Homecoming” parade to the Knife River homeland.

Tex Hall, who lead the day’s parade through the town and into the ceremonies, is chairman of the MHA Nation and a former coach, principal, school superintendent in a tribal town displaced by the Garrison Dam and later President of the National Congress of American Indians of 560 tribes. He believes in youth, learning from the past and carrying the Native cultural identity into the next generation through new ways.

His nephew standing beside him, with an iPhone in his hands, began texting, likely sending an instant message to his circle of peers 80 miles away, with a series of photos that included them remotely in the inner circle of elders, clan members and visitors standing at the center of a historic day–a homecoming.

The presence of smart phones at the ceremonies in the hands of both young and elders alike are a sign of how the awareness, the potential reach of learning, and collaboration in networks can overcome one of the obstacles of historical remoteness–distance. Today, new relevance of Indian sovereignty is in the hands of leaders and the youth of the next generation that have the tools of speaking in one voice from lessons learned and a new sense of “community.”

The future reach through Web-based media, and youth interacting by social media, are expected to generate new knowledge and understanding of our history, heritage and mutual cultures and highlight with a sense of pride the digital stories of the journey that took us full circle for a day of homecoming.

This article originally appeared in the June 20, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.