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Redeveloping Manpower on Fort Berthold

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The 1950s are remembered fondly by most US history textbooks. Known as the Eisenhower era, the postwar years were considered a new height of prosperity, with median family purchasing power increasing as much as 30%. Unfortunately, that prosperity was not universally shared. While many Americans were celebrating the end of World War II, indigenous people on the Fort Berthold reservation were being forced into a settlement agreement over losses they would suffer due to the Garrison Dam. After this settlement they experienced an economic decline aggravated by drought, poor relationships with the surrounding governments, and their decreasing ownership of the land.

The reservation continued to struggle until JFK championed two important pieces of federal legislation that had long-term effects. The first was the Area Redevelopment Act in 1961. This act allotted $451 million over four years for vocational training programs. It was meant to help in regions with severe unemployed and underemployed people, with reservations eligible for the assistance. All sorts of retraining programs started that summer, such as arts and crafts, farming, stenography, and clerical work.

The other important legislation was the Manpower Development and Training Act in 1962. This act helped educate people on new skills as older skills were becoming obsolete. This included a twelve-person construction carpentry program. The men who trained in these classes worked on many projects, including new high schools for the reservation in White Shield, Mandaree, and Parshall. They also helped build recreational facilities and a museum at Four Bears Park. These projects provided short-term employment, but they were followed by a massive low-rent housing effort that included projects in New Town, Parshall, Mandaree, Twin Buttes and White Shield. On this date in 1967, the New Town News reported that the projects were ahead of schedule, with prospective tenants being chosen from a long list of applicants.

Another longer-term project was developing Four Bears Park into a major recreation center. The Economic Development Administration approved an application with an estimated cost of about 1.2 million dollars in 1968. This project took four years and employed 23 tribal members.

Together, the Area Redevelopment Act and the Manpower Development and Training Act, not only helped relieve the Tribes’ economic struggles, they also provided buildings that would serve the reservation for years to come.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas







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