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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Acquiring Artifacts Related to Dakota Access Pipeline: Our Efforts to Document a Current Historic Event

History isn’t just in the past—it’s being made every day. Our mission includes collecting from the contemporary world because we want to preserve what it’s like to be a North Dakotan right now. We have a duty to document and preserve our current time for the historical record so future generations can study it and come to understand it.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project has many people expressing strong feelings on all sides of the issue. The scale and intensity of the pipeline protests are unprecedented in the state’s history. No matter what your stance, the controversy has become a significant part of North Dakota’s story and is worthy of preservation in the historical record.

We decided to start collecting objects related to this movement in November. We feared that if we waited too much longer, some of the objects that tell the story would be discarded by their owners.

Our public efforts started with a Dec. 23 article in the Bismarck Tribune, which outlined the objects we wanted to collect. We want to collect items to tell varying viewpoints of this ongoing story. Every perspective is equally important to help understand an event. We have reached out to private companies, law enforcement, state, tribal, and federal government agencies, counter protest groups, and people living at the camps to request donations. Our finalized list contained 28 groups or individuals to contact.

Museum aims to collect objects from porotest article

We first announced our collecting efforts with a December 23 article in the Bismarck Tribune, which gave a basic outline of what we wanted to collect and why we were gathering objects.

Donovan, Lauren. “Museum aims to collect objects from protest.” Bismarck Tribune, Dec. 23, 2016. Accessed Feb. 28, 2017. http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/museum-aims-to-collect-objects-from-protest/article_a1b1fa2b-73cb-5c97-81ed-f3097b63ea99.html

Our first influx of artifacts came from a Feb. 3 staff visit to the Oceti Sakowin camp, which was being dismantled at the time. Someone at the camp directed us to a pile of items being discarded as residents left. We selected 37 objects that we felt encapsulated daily life at the camps, including sleeping bags, camp chairs, signs, and canned goods. We also took the opportunity to talk with people we encountered about what we were doing and encouraged them to donate.

Oceti Sakowin protest camp on February 3

Museum Division staff visited the Oceti Sakowin protest camp on February 3. It was very quiet (not to mention cold), as most people had left, and the camp was being dismantled. We collected 37 artifacts and spoke with residents of the camp about what we were doing.

Pile of discarded items

We primarily collected from a large pile of items that had been discarded as people left the camp. We tried to select items that would encapsulate camp life like a sleeping bag, camp chair, canned food, and hiking boots. Pictured is Registrar Len Thorson examining the pile.

In addition to artifacts, we are interested in recording interviews with people from all sides of the story so we can have firsthand accounts of their experiences, which will add another layer to the three dimensional artifacts we are collecting.

Our goal is to assemble a comprehensive index of an important event in North Dakota history. Do you have something to add to the narrative?

Signs and other objects from DAPL protest

We have received items from a variety of sources.

Exhibit Development at Fort Totten State Historic Site

Work is nearing completion on restoration of the historic hospital/cafeteria at Fort Totten State Historic Site. Throughout the winter of 2017 we’ve developed, designed, and installed new exhibit spaces throughout the building. Agency staff members have been hard at work for several weeks customizing the exhibit display booths and preparing objects for exhibition. Interpretation themes for visitors to explore include the frontier military hospital and industrial boarding school cafeteria as well as the extensive collections of the Pioneer Daughters of the Lake Region who have occupied the building since 1960.

When we last left off, the exhibit cubes were under construction (blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/totten-restoration-update). The past few weeks have been spent outfitting the individual spaces and tailoring them to themes related to the Pioneer Daughter’s collections including military, Victorian era clothing and accessories, pioneer kitchen accessories, farm tools, and toys from the turn of the century.

Outfitting exhibit cube with 1870-era wood siding

Fort Totten site supervisor Kyle Nelson outfits one of the exhibit cubes with 1870-era wood siding sourced from his family’s original homestead in Nelson County.

Preparing military uniform for exhibit

Historic Sites Manager Guinn Hinman (right) works with volunteer Alison Hinman (Dickinson Museum Center) on preparing a military uniform for exhibit.

Exhibit showcasing dress uniform

The completed exhibit—showcasing the dress uniform of H.M. Creel who founded Devils Lake.

WWI artifacts

World War I artifacts housed in the vast collections of the Pioneer Daughters of the Lake Region being assessed and prepared for exhibition.

Preparing to install large graphic

Ramone Gumke of Newman Signs (Jamestown) prepares to install a large graphic depicting a turn-of-the century printing press in an exhibit cube at the hospital/cafeteria at Fort Totten State Historic Site.

Some of the completed exhibit cubes

A view of some of the completed exhibit cubes in the west wing of the hospital/cafeteria at Fort Totten State Historic Site.

The Grand Opening for the hospital/cafeteria and re-opening of the museum of the Pioneer Daughters is scheduled for May 20, 2017. Stay up to date on the restoration process and see more photos on the Fort Totten Facebook page: facebook.com/FortTottenSHSND