Three Affiliated Tribes


The Mandan , Hidatsa , and Arikara Nations came together in the nineteenth century after several devastating smallpox epidemics. In 1934, they formally joined together to become the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold. Today, the Three Affiliated Tribes maintain just under one million acres of land on the Fort Berthold Reservation in northwestern North Dakota. As a government, the Three Affiliated Tribes administer a variety of services for their citizens, including economic programs, healthcare, and education.

"The Mandan and the Hidatsa have been allies for many centuries. The Mandan began sort of an upriver migration . . . and along the way they were joined by the Hidatsa people. . .

Things [were] changing rapidly on the Great Plains in the upper Missouri region area.

. . . This was after the smallpox epidemics nearly wiped them out and meanwhile the Arikara were being harassed by the Sioux . . . They [Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara] found themselves in pretty dire straits and so, in [the] 1830s they found themselves together along the Missouri River at a place called Like-a-Fishhook Village. And they became allies."

Marilyn Hudson (Three Affiliated Tribes), NMAI Interview, August 2016

Marilyn Hudson describes the events that contributed to the Mandan , Hidatsa , and Arikara becoming the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation. The alliance of the Mandan , Hidatsa , and Arikara Nations contributed to the safety of the tribes during times of great loss and violence. This alliance is now permanent.

The O-kee-pa was a four-day ceremony that included the arduous initiation of the most promising young men of the Mandan tribe. It began with the young men completing a four-day fast, strictly supervised by a priest, in the medicine lodge. While the young men fasted, the entire community petitioned the Great Spirit for fertility and an abundant supply of buffalo in a series of activities outside. Each participant in the Bull Dance wore an entire buffalo skin, head, horns, hooves, and tail. They repeated the dance forty times over the course of the O-kee-pa, imitating the movements of a buffalo.

Bull Dance, Mandan O-kee-pa Ceremony, 1832. Painting by George Catlin, Smithsonian American Art Museum 1985.66.505
Mah-to-toh-pa , or Four Bears, was born around 1800 and established his leadership through the Dog Soldier and Half Shorn societies. He was celebrated by the Mandan Nation as a great warrior and twice sponsored the most important annual ceremony of the Mandan, the O-kee-pa.

Mah-to-toh-pa, Four Bears, Second Chief, in Full Dress, 1832. Painting by George Catlin, Smithsonian American Art Museum 1985.66.128
A new Public Safety and Judicial Center built by the Three Affiliated Tribes will house tribal judicial services.

Photograph by Eloise Ogden, May 6, 2017. Credited to Minot Daily News
Mark Fox was sworn in as chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in New Town, North Dakota. Fox says he hopes to restore transparency to tribal government on the oil-rich Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Photograph by Brent McDonald, November, 2014, Courtesy of The New York Times and Redux.
The Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold wrote a letter of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's position to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline, a construction project designed to move crude oil across four states.

"We're not against all oil and gas development. We're not against all pipelines. We just want responsible development... That being said, if our fellow tribal nation says, 'We don't want that,' that is their right. We stand firmly behind them."

–Mark Fox, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes

Courtesy of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation
Young people from the Three Affiliated Tribes read their petition to prevent the Sakagawea Pipeline construction to the Three Affiliated Tribes' Business Council. Council members voted to forestall the construction.

Photograph credited to Kandi Mossett
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