The native tribes of North Dakota are an essential part of the state’s history. In fact, five tribal nations share geography with North Dakota and include approximately 30,000 tribal members with deep connections to the plains. The Native American tribes of North Dakota are the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara; the Yanktonai, Sisseton, Wahpeton, Hunkpapa and other Dakota/Lakota/Nakota (commonly known as the Sioux) tribes; and the Chippewa and Metis.
As constant as the state’s magnificent sunflower blooms, every summer brings the opportunity to attend a plethora of powwows. The state’s immersive powwows begin in July with celebrations culminating in September at the United Tribes International Powwow in Bismarck. While each powwow is unique, each one offer visitors an opportunity to experience a pillar of Native American culture. Highlights include:
- Twin Buttes Powwow, Twin Buttes, ND – August 3-6: A family-friendly celebration taking place near Lake Sakakawea, the Twin Buttes Powwow includes drumming and singing, intertribal and contest dancing, food and craft vendors. The War Bonnet Parade takes place Thursday, August 3.
- Little Shell Celebration/Antelope Society, New Town, ND – August 10-13: The Antelope Society organizes the annual Little Shell Celebration, which is the largest event on the reservation and the second largest powwow in North Dakota.
- United Tribes International Powwow, Bismarck, ND – September 8-10: The competitive dancers and singers are the highlight of the celebration. Known as the Home of the Champions, this is one of the last large outdoor events on the northern Great Plains powwow circuit.
In addition to attending a powwow, here are some additional options to revel in Native American culture and history throughout the state:
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park – Mandan, ND
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is located on the banks of the Missouri River just south of Mandan, Bismarck's sister city. The park's history goes back more than 300 years and includes On‐A‐Slant Village, which was once home to a Mandan Native American population in the mid‐1600s who lived in earthlodges along the river. Today, visitors can tour five reconstructed earthlodges and partake in interpretive tours that offer an introduction to historic Mandan culture. The park is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site – Stanton, ND
Explorers Lewis and Clark traveled along the Missouri River in North Dakota, and many of their interactions with the Native Americans have become key parts of the history of the United States. Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site was home to Sakakawea before she joined the Lewis and Clark expedition. Today, the national historic site is home to a Visitor Center featuring an educational film about the life of Buffalo Bird Woman who also lived at the Knife River Indian Villages. Outside the Visitor Center, take a stroll along the Village Trail (1.3 miles) and see the remains of the Awatixa Xi'e Village (Lower Hidatsa Site) and Awatixa Village (Sakakawea Site). Join Native flutist and storyteller Keith Bear on July 22 as he demonstrates the techniques of Native flute playing. The Visitor Center and Earthlodge are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the trails are open daily from sunrise to sunset.
North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum – Bismarck, ND
On the grounds of the state capitol building in Bismarck, the museum offers visitors an interactive and informative overview of Native American history and culture in the state. It has one of the nation's largest collections of Plains Indian artifacts, second only to the Smithsonian. One display of note is the new On the Edge of the Wind: Native Storytellers & the Land exhibit which explores the connections between cultural practices, regional landscapes and tribal oral narratives. Next, stop by the museum’s Native American Hall of Honor, a gallery of prominent North Dakota Native Americans who have gone above and beyond in representing their tribe and culture.
MHA Interpretive Center – New Town, ND
Head to the newly opened MHA Interpretive Center in New Town to learn about the culture and history of the three distinct Tribal nations that comprise the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. The net-zero building houses an expansive collection of artifacts and art sacred to the MHA Nation and living history programs. Don’t miss the opportunity to take in the scenic views from the center’s observation deck overlooking Lake Sakakawea. The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 4 p.m.
For more about Native American experiences in North Dakota, visit NDtourism.com.
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