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Arikaras in the Fargo Forum

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On this date in 1921, the front page of the second section of the Fargo Forum's Saturday evening edition led with the article headlined, “Arikara Indians Stage Ancient Ceremonial at Fort Berthold.”

“For the second time in 40 years the spectacular and beautiful ceremonials of the Arikara nation of Indians on the Fort Berthold reservation have been given. They were presented the week of Aug. 15, at the reservation through the efforts of Dr. Melvin Gilmore, curator of the North Dakota State Historical Society and Alfred Bear of the Arikara nation. Dr. Gilmore made records of the ancient rituals of the celebration for preservation in the files of the society.”

Dr. Gilmore's records at the State Historical Society of North Dakota include these remarks:

“In old times there were rituals and ceremonial celebrations connected with the various community activities throughout the cycle of the seasons each year. But in later times, since the United States government has reduced the various Indians tribes from the status of free peoples to that of subject peoples and wards they have been restricted from the celebration of their own seasonal ceremonies.

“All the 'fifty-seven varieties' of peoples we have imported from the old world are freely permitted to carry on their peculiar institutions, the Jews with their Yom Kippur and Yom Teruah, the Norwegians with the 'Sittende Mai', and others with their own peculiar Old World institutions, but people of the native American race, who are loyal and true Americans and nothing but Americans, are prevented from celebrating their own age-old festivals.”

The Fargo Forum went on:

“These ceremonial observances of the Arikara are spectacular and impressive, filled with religious fervency, poetry and dramatic art. They partake somewhat of the nature of the Miracle Plays of the Christian Church of Europe in the Middle Ages, such as the Passion Play of Oberammergau, somewhat of the historical pageant, and somewhat of the spectacular ceremonials of the Pueblo Indians of our Southwest.”

1921 featured a rare convergence of circumstances where ethnologists got access to indigenous religious ceremonies, and Arikaras felt comfortable enough to let their mysteries be seen by strangers. The Arikaras built a ceremonial lodge made of wood and concrete, and would involve Dr. Melvin Gilmore in their rituals one year later. Such events for ethnologists created an opportunity for Arikara ceremonies despite federal repression of indigenous religions.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


“ARIKARA INDIANS STAGE ANCIENT CEREMONIAL AT FORT BERTHOLD”, Fargo Forum, Saturday Evening, 24 September 1921, second section, page 13, columns 1-4. North Dakota State Archives.

Melvin Randolph Gilmore, “'Making Records of Ancient Rituals of the Arikara Tribe in North Dakota' Summary of August 1921 Study at Fort Berthold”, Will Family Papers, 10190, Box 19, Folder 3, page 1, North Dakota State Archives.

“COMMUNITY HOUSE BUILT ON BERTHOLD INDIAN RESERVATION”, Jamestown Alert, 13 October 1921, page 8, column 6. North Dakota State Archives.

Melvin Randolph Gilmore, “Account of the Piraskani Ceremony of the Arikara at Armstrong, North Dakota, September 1922”, Gilmore Papers, American Indian Studies Research Institute, University of Indiana.


“Mandan Man First Admitted White To Indian Relief Society”, Grand Forks Herald (Evening Edition), 18 October 1921, page 3, column 2. North Dakota State Archives.

“INDIAN RELICS ARE GIVEN TO STATE MUSEUM: Dr. Gilmore Receives Tunic, Skull and Pipe, Property of 'Soldier'.”, Grand Forks Herald (Evening Edition), 30 August 1921, page 3, column 1. North Dakota State Archives.

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