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Resilience Throughout Relocation

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Penny auctions were collective actions to help farmers during the Great Depression. When a farm was foreclosed upon and sold by the lending financial institution at auction, the crowd would conspire to bid a trivial amount and return the land and assets to the farmer.

Unfortunately for many tribal members, no similar strategy was available two decades later when they were forced from the lands they had lived on for millennia to make room for the Garrison Dam and the lake it would create.

The relocations were devastating for the Tribes. It nearly wiped out their ways of life that had managed to survive Christian missionaries and the Department of War. They were forced to sell 94% of their land. The relocation process took many years and sometimes families would be eating dinner when workers came to relocate their homes.

During that time in 1951, the Indian Relocation Program sought to assimilate Indigenous people into a more white settler colonial way of life. The Three Affiliated Tribes fought back, seeking to maintain their cultural ways. A report from 1952 detailed a trip the Tribal Council took to Washington around this date.

The Tribal Council had many concerns. They wanted to salvage certain government buildings, have roads constructed into the western side of the now divided reservation, and perhaps most importantly, they wanted a high school on the reservation. Tribal Councilman Carl Whitman explained the concerns to Commissioner Dillon Myer of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The way public school districts had been divided, Indigenous parents would lose control of what school their child attended, which would divide the Indigenous community further. While the discussions in 1952 ended in disagreement, the Tribes eventually did get high schools at White Shield, Mandaree, and Parshall through the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962.

Almost 40 years later, in the fall of 2021, Nueta-Hidatsa-Sahnish College announced a partnership with UND involving a $500,000 grant to preserve the Three Affiliated Tribes language and culture. Part of that will include an archive of government papers about the Garrison Dam and letters from tribe members detailing their experiences with the relocation.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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