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Demographics of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation

Excerpted from:  History and Culture of the Three Affiliated Tribes: Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation: Resource Guide.  (1994) New Town: Three Affiliated Tribes. Education Dept.



The traditional territorial lands of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Ankara encompassed an area of more than 12 million acres extending from east of the Missouri River to Montana and south as far as present day Nebraska and Wyoming. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and subsequent executive orders and congressional acts between 1851 and 1891 reduced the original size of the reservation from a maximum of roughly 13.5 million acres to a gross area (including white-owned land) to approximately 930,000 acres.


The Fort Berthold Reservation is situated in western North Dakota, the reservation occupies sections of six counties: Mountrail, McLean, Dunn, McKenzie, Mercer and Ward. The total area within the boundaries of the reservation is approximately one million acres, of which about one-half is trust land. Lake Sakakawea, covers 1 55,000 acres of reservation land and about 600 miles of reservation shoreline. Currently, the reservation acreage is slightly more than 980,000 acres, of which 356,998 acres are individually allotted, 353,790 acres are in the returned homestead area, and 152,000 acres are in the reservoir taking area  North Dakota Blue Book, 1996.)


The Fort Berthold Reservation, is located on the western edge of the Missouri Coteau (Hills of the Missouri). The topography of this area was formed by glaciers shaped late in the Cretaceous Period. The area was further shaped primarily by erosion. The Missouri Coteau and the Coteau Slope separates the Central Lowlands of North Dakota on the east, from the Great Plains, on the west. The eastern portion of the Fort Berthold Reservation resembles the Great Plains and is characterized by rolling hills and valleys, small and close together. Much of the south and western portions of reservation are characterized by rolling uplands, scattered large hills and buttes, well developed valleys and badlands. The Sioux referred to the badlands as "makosica" (land that is bad"). Early French explorers translated this to "les mauvais terres a' traverser" ("bad land to travel across"). (Bluemle, 1976, p. 1 1).

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Ankara settled and farmed along the river bottom of the Missouri River for centuries. The Missouri River bottom lands afforded them ideal spots for homes sites, alerted them of pending depredations, and provided protection from the elements. The centuries of existence in the bottom lands, with its rich and fertile soil, allowed the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Ankara, time to develop several hybrid forms of corn, squash, and beans. The area was also abundant in chert, a pure, extremely hard, microcrystalline quartz. Another variety of chert, called Knife River Flint, was used extensively by the ancestors of the Three Tribes as a raw material for tools. The term "Knife River", is an English translation of the Hidatsa name, Meci' (Knife) uu (ah) shish (river), which is said to have been given because flint for knifes was quarried along the river. (Bluemele, 1967, P.16).

Precipitation ranges from 14 - 16 inches with the normal annual precipitation less than 15 inches. Most of the precipitation falls during the growing season, thus preventing real drought. The summer rain is primarily from thunderstorms which develop suddenly and intense line in this part of the country. (Schneider, 1994, p.143).

The Fort Berthold Reservation is divided into six political subdivision called segments. They are referred to as: Mandaree, New Town/Little Shell, Twin Buttes, White Shield, Four Bears and Parshall/Lucky Mound Segments. ND. Blue Book, 1995, P.34, Ch. 1.) The west segments of the reservation are used primarily for livestock production The north, east and northeast segments are comprised of rolling grasslands which is used as crop land. The average number of growing days is 110 - 119 with approximately 130 - 139 days of 28 degrees and above temperatures (U.S. Department of Interior 1971, p.117, Schneider p.142).


The flooding of the bottom lands of the Missouri River destroyed the long-established Indian population centers of the Fort Berthold Reservation. Before the reservoir was built, 289 out of 357 households were located in the reservoir area. After the original Indian communities moved up to the uplands, Indian families were spread throughout the Reservation. However, the majority of the people live in local communities of Mandaree, White Shield, Twin Buttes, Four Bears (location of the Tribal headquarters), and the incorporated towns of Parshall and New Town (location of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters.) The current resident Indian population of the Reservation is approximately 3,776, with an enrolled population of 9,500. (Three Affiliated Tribes - Overall Economic Development Plan, 1996).


The transportation system on the Fort Berthold Reservation consists of state paved highways, county and tribal graveled or dirt roads. In 1995, the Three Affiliated Tribes assumed the road maintenance system from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Fort Berthold Reservation has access to three major highways, and the state's major Interstate highways. North Dakota highway 23 provides east/west transportation to the cities of Williston, ND and Fairview, Montana; Minot, Bismarck, and Mandan, ND. Highways 22,23, and 1804 provide north/south transportation to the cities of Bismarck, Mandan, and Dickinson, ND, to Interstate 94, and Billings, MT. Highway 1804, the historic route of Lewis and Clark borders the east riverbank of the Missouri River. Its counterpart, Highway 1806, follows Highway 22 on the western border of the Fort Berthold Reservation. This highway, along with highway 200 serves as the main transportation route for the communities of Mandaree, Killdeer, and Twin Buttes.

The construction of the Garrison Dam and Lake Sakakawea drastically altered the original transportation system of the reservation. After the construction of the Garrison Dam, 80 percent of the road system was inundated. It was necessary to build a system of 230 miles of new highways at a cost of $3,200,000 completed in the fall of 1954. (Shane, p.24). The construction of the Garrison Dam and creation of Lake Sakakawea divided the reservation into five segments. The main northern transportation connection point between the eastern and western portions of the reservation is the Four Bears bridge. The Four Bears Bridge was moved from Elbowoods after the construction of the Garrison Dam. To reach the southern portion of the reservation, residents have to drive sometimes a distance of about 100 miles to reach outlying communities. Original plans to construct a bridge the southern part of the reservoir have been tabled in favor of seeking support for replacement of the antiquated, rusting, obsolete, narrow Four Bears Bridge. In late fall of 1996, the Three Affiliated Tribes began a dialogue with the State of North Dakota to discuss replacement of the Four Bears Bridge. (Bismarck Tribune - see article in Nov/Dec?96).


According 0 the 1990 census, Indian reservations in North Dakota were the only areas in the state where there were population increases by county. Normally, the age distribution of a population is important when determining the labor supply in the area. Age distributions generally do not change significantly in the short-term unless there has been large population changes in the area. With the growth of economic activity generated by the establishment of casinos and other economic ventures associated with industry and business, population statistics are likely to increase.

The 1989-90 Bureau of Indian Affairs Report of Labor Force for the Fort Berthold Reservation shows that the potential labor force/ages sixteen and older for the Reservation is 838 persons. Of that number 447 persons are unemployed, of those employed, 260 persons earned $7,000 or more.


The vegetation of the western and southern segments is mainly grasses: western wheat grass, little blue stem, blue gama, sand reed grass, plains muhly, green needle grass, and needle and thread (U.S. Dept. Of Interior 1971:5). In the gullies berries from shrub trees, such as June berry, buffalo berry, and choke cherry are natural food sources of the reservation. Trees on the reservation are noncommercial species of burr oak, green ash, and cottonwood.


There are six main reservation communities on the Ft. Berthold Reservation: New Town, White Shield, Mandaree, Four Bears, Twin Buttes, and Parshall. These communities represent composite populations from a number of other communities who were moved out after the flooding of the reservoir.

The Four Bears complex, located about three mites west of New Town on state highway 23, is the main site of the Tribal Headquarters. After the move to New Town, the tribal headquarters was located in a portion of a Bureau of Indian Affairs building. Thereafter, the tribe moved into a temporary office on main street. In 1979, a new tribal office was completed across the reservoir near the Drags Wolf Village.

The main communities on the reservation support a growing commercial and business sector. Many residents still go to Minot or Bismarck for wholesale shopping. Railroad and commercial and charter air transportation services are available in Minot and Bismarck. New Town and Williston have small airports.


The Fort Berthold Housing Authority was established in 1968. Under the administration of the Fort Berthold Housing Authority, 720 mutual self-help and low-rent housing units are maintained. The tribe has taken an aggressive approach toward seeking financing to provide quality homes and rental units to tribal members.



The Four Bears Casino and Lodge, was opened to the general public on July 16, 1993. Located in the Four Bears community, 4 miles west of New Town, ND, the facility was constructed from the original Four Bears Lodge, built in 1975 from an earlier Office of Economic Opportunity Project. The new facility offers a full service restaurant, a gift shop, and a state-of-the-art gaming facility. The Lodge offers 40 modern motel rooms. In April of 1994, a 5,700 square foot, 270 seat bingo hall was opened which accommodates over 300 players. In the summer of 1994, the Three Affiliated Tribes saw the expansion of the RV Part to 85 full-service ice sites, replacing the 25 full service and 24 primitive sites originally available at the older park.

The Three Affiliated Tribes in 1995, bought out the joint-venture contract from Bruce H. Lien Company and began self management of the facility. The Casino and Lodge employs over 322 individuals, 90 percent of whom are tribal members.

The Four Bears Convenience Store and Gas Station is s 24-hour convenience store and gas station was opened in 1993. Located adjacent to the Casino and Lodge.

Four Bears Recreation Park is located on the shoreline of Lake Sakakawea and adjacent to the Four Bear Lodge and Casino, is a full service recreation area. The Four Bears Recreation Park features twenty-five electrical hook-ups, water, sewer facilities, laundry and shower facilities. These facilities are made available to patrons and members.

The Four Bears Museum was built in 1957 from a trust fund established by a long term tribal member Helen Gough from White Shield



Northrop Manufacturing is located on the eastern edge of the city of New Town. The facility manufactures and develops air frames, missiles, and electronic systems for the Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and commercial aviation companies. The plant currently employs 95 people. Tribal enrollees comprises approximately 24 percent of the company's employees.

Mandaree Electronics Corp. is a tribally chartered corporation which was established in the Mandaree Community. MEC trains tribal members to produce or assemble MILSPEC certified items such as circuit boards, wire harnesses, etc. Initial technical training and equipment assistance is obtained from the Northrop Corporation and the Killdeer Manufacturing of North Dakota Corporation.  See more here

The Three Affiliated Tribes Lumber Construction Manufacturing Corporation (LCM) is also a tribally chartered corporation. The LCM Corporation features a retail sales lumberyard, a construction supply lumberyard, and employs a construction contractor to assist in the corporation's efforts. The Corporation also manufactures components for homes. LCM is the only business entity in the State of North Dakota to obtain foreign corporation status, which allows the company to compete outside the reservation.

Uniband created was In 1996, the Three Affiliated Tribes entered into a joint- inter-tribal business venture, the first of its kind in North Dakota, with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. The business founded at Turtle Mountain, is an on-site data processing firm. The Community of White Shield became a satellite work site of UNIBAND, located at Belcourt, ND. Hailed as the beginning of an effort to help one another develop economic opportunities, the site employs 60 members of the White Shield community.

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