Tribal college partners with UND on culture project; $500,000 grant funding effort

A few hundred young and old Native American dancers dressed in full regalia and joined the grand entry to fill Lone Star Arena at the 49th annual United Tribes Technical College International Powwow in Bismarck in 2018.

The tribal college on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks are collaborating to digitally preserve Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara language and culture, and also boost the study of American Indian history in the state.

The schools will use a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the effort.

Faculty and students at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town will conduct oral interviews with elders and then inventory, preserve and digitize what officials say is “critically endangered” language resources and other at-risk traditional knowledge.

The UND team will build and expand the Three Affiliated Tribes’ digital collection. Together, the schools will create educational resources for use in the state’s new K-12 Native American history curriculum and as part of a special initiative on the tribal campus.

The Legislature earlier this year approved Senate Bill 2304, which requires North Dakota studies instruction in elementary school to include an emphasis on the state’s federally recognized Indian tribes: the MHA Nation, or Three Affiliated Tribes; the Standing Rock Sioux; the Spirit Lake Nation; the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa; and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Nation.

North Dakota also has a Native American Essential Understandings school instructional project that State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler began in 2015. It provides information about the history, culture and traditions of North Dakota’s tribes, including a resource document for classrooms and a website with interviews of tribal elders. For more information, go to teachingsofourelders.org.

Dr. Twyla Baker, president of the tribal college, said in a statement that the partnership with UND “will help bridge gaps in preserving and revitalizing Three Affiliated Tribes’ cultural and traditional lifeways by helping us train the next generation of caretakers.”

UND President Andy Armacost said, “This grant award is another advancement for UND’s ongoing efforts to not only strengthen its American Indian Studies program, but also to digitally preserve and make available critical historical and cultural information about the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation.”

The grant also provides funding to build a traditional foodways skills lab that will feature a kitchen where faculty, students and community members can practice traditional foodways and preservation techniques. Kitchen cabinets will be temperature-controlled to ensure proper storage of the tribal college’s seed cache as well as materials needed for demonstrations on seed drying and plant processing, including those used for medicinal purposes. The lab also will be used for community gatherings.

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