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Understanding Indigenous Culture in ND Series - MHA Nation

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes) is located on the Fort Berthold Reservation in central North Dakota along the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea with land fully or in parts of McLean, Mountrail, Dunn, McKenzie, Mercer and Ward Counties. The building of the Garrison Dam (opened on June 11, 1953) and subsequent formation of Lake Sakakawea has provided recreational opportunities for many North Dakotans but had a significant impact on Fort Berthold lands. The dam’s construction wiped out the town of Elbowoods, the luscious bottomlands, and the lifestyles of the Indigenous people who lived there. The city of New Town was formed as a result. Their nation is led by a 7-member tribal council: one member elected from each of the 6 “segments,” or the major communities of Four Bears, Mandaree, New Town, Parshall/Lucky Mound, Twin Buttes and White Shield, plus an additional member elected as chairman. The tribal headquarters is located 4 miles west of New Town, ND.


The Arikara are also known as the SAHNISH (“the people”). Sahnish people were agricultural people, most famous for the “Three Sisters” or Corn, Beans, and Squash. They originated from the Southeastern part of the United States, and their language is closely related to other Caddoan languages like the Pawnee and Wichita Sahnish people lived primarily in earth lodges and were astronomers. Star knowledge and Mother Corn were important to their ceremonies, values, and beliefs.

The Mandan people call themselves NUETA (“the people of the first man”). They gravitated towards their current location from southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Nueta (Mandan) were agricultural people as well growing corn, squash, and pumpkins. The last fluent speaker of the Mandan language, Edwin Benson, passed away on December 9, 2016.

The Hidatsa people call themselves HIRAACA. The Hidatsa moved from central Minnesota to the eastern part of North Dakota near Devils Lake and moved to join the Mandan at the Missouri River about 1600 A.D. Accounts of recorded history in the early 18th century identify three closely related village groups to which the term Hidatsa is applied.

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people came together to settle on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation today known as the MHA Nation.


MHA nation is home to a diverse and thriving economy. Because much of North Dakota’s most recent years of Bakken oil development has taken place on MHA lands, MHA has made significant investments in its people and communities. MHA is proud of:

  • Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College (NHSC), located in New Town, was founded in 1973 and focuses on the values of Honesty, Respect, Responsibility, Tenacity, Curiosity, Being a Good Relative, and Innovation.

  • A new MHA Nation Interpretive Center will be in New Town and will curate the historical artifacts and stories related to their peoples

  • The Ralph Wells Community Center in White Shield enhancing the wellness of its population and assist in boosting their workforce.

  • Good Road Recovery Center is operated by Three Affiliated Tribes in Bismarck. This shows MHA’s commitment to addiction recovery in traditional indigenous ways for members within and outside of their tribal land borders.

  • The MHA Nation Public Safety and Judicial Center located in New Town, houses the Fort Berthold Police Department and the MHA District Court.

  • 4 Bears Water Park, located in New Town, was created for families and children, promoting a healthy lifestyle and the sacred connection to water.

  • Native Green Grow (NG2) is a greenhouse project that seeks to achieve food sovereignty for tribal members.

Amidst all these modernizations and amenities remains a deeply rooted dedication to tribal culture and history. All three tribes – the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people - are in a current state of language revitalization.

GIVE THIS a TRY: Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, an MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators: “We are more alike than we are different.”

HA ancestors were homesteaders and gardeners. A common agricultural technique was known as companion planting, where two or more crops were planted in a single plot. The most famous companion planting is the “Three Sisters” (see here for an actual planting visual) which comes from a legend where the maize (corn), pole beans and winter squash were inseparable sisters that were given to the people by the “Great Spirit.”

Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, a MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators:

“The educator can provide a brief history of companion planting, “The Three Sisters” and photos of the corn, pole beans and winter squash. It is then suggested to find a space and create a classroom garden. I know of one school that collaborated with their local seed or soil district office and secured the seeds and a garden plot.

Recommendations would be to plant the Three Sisters, whether in an outside garden type area, within your classroom in simple containers (beans and squash only), or for students to take home and foster their growth"

Red Basket states that the American Heart Association recommends the use of the Three Sisters as its very healthy for you.

Discuss the shared values of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people with other families, cultures, and nations. Review and share Oceti Sakowin: The People of the Seven Council Fires” with your classrooms.

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