Three Affiliated Tribes

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The organization and importance of kinship among the Three Affiliated Tribes has its origins in the deep cultural histories of the people. Traditional stories have conveyed these meanings for countless generations.

"We have many stories. To the white man, they would say they're myths and legends, but to us, they are our cultural history. And in one instance, the clan that I'm a member of, the Water Buster clan, there were two thunder birds who became human beings. And they came to live among us, and when they decided to go back to the spirit world, one of them made promises that he would honor. If someone got sick, he would heal them. He would bring the buffalo nearby. If enemies came against us, he would put them on the run. If we would just take care of them. And we still take care of those bundles today, so I believe that we have been taken care of."

Calvin Grinnell ( Mandan , Hidatsa , and Arikara ) Three Affiliated Tribes, Fort Berthold, ND. NMAI Interview, 2016
Good Bear, a member of the Hidatsa Nation, and his wife and three children pose for a studio portrait.

Good Bear [and family], ca. 1908. Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of the Library of Congress, 89707042
Discussion Question

How would growing up in a society with family, extended family, and clan relatives shape your identity?

In addition to growing crops of corn and squash, Mandan women also harvested local plants such as the buffalo berry. Recent research has shown that buffalo berries contain lycopene , which may decrease the risk of certain types of cancers.

Buffalo berry gatherers—Mandan, ca. 1908. Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of the Library of Congress, 200272238
Discussion Question

Can you think of a task that you are required to do—perhaps a chore at home? What happens when you are able to do that with another person?

"Harvest began in September and ended in October. Some of the harvest from seeds of long ago were eaten and enjoyed by all the garden helpers and others. Some harvest was saved for seed and some were given to others who wanted to begin planting."

Photograph courtesy of Bernadine Young Bird, Hidatsa.
Discussion Question

What other cultural practices and values are being learned and experienced by gardening?

Giveaway ceremonies demonstrate the generosity of Native people. It shows a very different manner of honoring. At times a giveaway might be for a particular person. Rather than that person getting lots of presents, the family "gives away" presents to others in his or her honor. In this photo, Calvin Grinnell, Three Affiliated Tribes historian, and Marilyn Hudson, retired director of the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum, hold a star quilt that the tribe once gifted to Dr. Gerd Ebel. Dr. Ebel's son Rainer returned the generosity by donating the complete collection of gifts given to his father back to the Three Affiliated Tribes. The collection included twenty quilts and blankets and two headdresses.

Photograph by Katherine Lymn, 2013. Credited to Dickinson Press.
Discussion Questions

Do you consider generosity an important value? Why or why not?

Have you experienced acts of generosity in your life? What made these actions important?

"As far as the Arikara side, we . . . identify with a certain type of medicine in terms of a clan system. Because a big part of it was based on our medicine societies . . .

The Hidatsa have it a little different. They're more structured . . . It's . . . based off a man who had . . . a connection to the thunder. . . And there was another one—The Water Buster. . . The Hidatsa people . . . maintain their clan system, so anybody in that clan . . . you would be a brother or a sister. . . and that always followed your mother [mother's side of the family]."

Loren Yellow Bird (Hidatsa and Arikara) Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold, ND. NMAI Interview 2016

Loren Yellow Bird (Hidatsa and Arikara) gives a brief description of the societies that made up the Arikara social system and the clans that are part of the Hidatsa society. Members of a clan were your brothers and sisters. Clan relatives were responsible for the upbringing of all younger clan members, and they were obliged to help in sacred and ceremonial situations.

Discussion Questions

What is important about the survival of traditional kinship systems across countless generations?

What values do the Three Affiliated Tribes demonstrate in these descriptions of their kinship systems?

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