Friday, October 30, 2009

1948 Signing of the Garrison Dam Agreement

On June 11, 1953, the United States dedicated the Garrison Dam. For the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota, the anniversary is not one to be celebrated.
In creating the dam, the federal government flooded 156,000 acres of tribal land, including the tribe's capital. More than 300 families and 1,700 residents -- 80 percent of the tribal membership at the time -- were forced to relocate, prompting the loss of an entire way of life, tribal members say.

The Mandan people -- who call themselves Nueta -- moved to an area called Twin Buttes. The language was slow to follow, its memory now nearly as flooded as the tribe's sacred sites. Tribal leaders opposed the project, suggesting alternatives to limit the impact. But it moved forward anyway, and George Gillette, the tribe's chairman at the time, reluctantly signed an agreement to give up one-quarter of the Fort Berthold Reservation.

"We will sign this contract with a heavy heart," he said in 1948. "With a few scratches of the pen, we will sell the best part of our reservation. Right now the future doesn't look too good to us."

Gillette can be seen crying in a photo taken at the event.

Along with the flooding of Elbowoods, the capital, the reservation's Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital there was destroyed. That brought Tex Hall, the tribe's chairman, and Fred Baker, chairman of the tribe's elders organization, to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on June 11, 2003, to ask the government to fulfill a 50-year-old promise to replace the hospital. Without a new facility, they said, lives are in danger.
"I blame diabetes on the dam," Hall said, quoting a tribal elder. "I blame cancer on the dam." Hall's grandfather was vice-chairman at the time of the 1948 signing and is also seen in the photo.

The sentiments were echoed by others at the hearing, held to consider a bill that would authorize $20 million for a new clinic. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), chairman of the committee and one of the sponsors, said the "confiscation" of the tribe's land was one of the most "disheartening episodes" in history.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), another sponsor, called the dam a "bitter chapter of history that forever changed" the tribe. "That is something that is desperately needed," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) of the clinic. "It is something that is owed to the tribe."

Fred Baker, whose grandfather and uncle were at the 1948 signing, was born at the Elbowoods hospital. As one of the few remaining speakers of the Hidatsa language, he said it was a place where tribal members could go and feel welcome.

"With the advent of the Garrison Dam, our hospital at Elbowoods was closed, and we were forced to seek care at hospitals where we knew no one, everything was strange and different, and sometimes we were not treated very well," he said in his written testimony. "As a result, many of us, especially our elders refused to seek medical care and many died at home, rather than seek care at such a foreign place."
. . .

I believe the following information is current: In 2003, fifty years after the dam construction and flooding of the land, authorization was signed to provide a healthcare facility to replace the demolished Elbowoods hospital. The Minne-Tohe Health Center serves the members of the Three Affiliated Tribes. The two-physician center is four miles from New Town, ND. The center is an outpatient facility with specialty and dental clinics. Inpatient patient care is provided by contract with local hospitals including the Minot hospital. The tribes have a contract to operate two health stations, one in Mandaree and one in White Shield, which are staffed by a physician's assistant from Fort Berthold. The tribes also operate a Health Care Satellite Clinic in Twin Buttes which is staffed by a nurse practitioner.


Post your bids in Comments! said...

Another heartbreaker is Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona -

Sen. Barry Goldwater was influential in pushing this through. He later said he was sorry, too late.

Post your bids in Comments! said...

Edward Abbey tells about Glen Canyon and Lake Powell in his book Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness.

Post your bids in Comments! said...

Desert Solitaire--one of the best books I've ever read.

T.K. Thorne said...

What a great site you have Ramey! We share several interests-animals, Native American interests and a fun-loving spirit. I loved the story about the robot and the otter.
Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading more. Do you have an RSS feed?