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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!

Partnering with People: Oh, the Possibilities!

Partnerships play a very important role at the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND). These may be with individuals like volunteers, researchers, and students or with entities such as museums, schools, private businesses, state and federal agencies, and/or tribal and local governments. One example of a successful and continuing partnership is between SHSND staff and Calvin Grinnell, Tribal Historian and member of the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation. Calvin is a longtime member and past president of the agency’s State Historical Board. He has also served on the State Review Board for the National Register of Historic Places.

Calvin works with us on many projects including historical and archaeological research and publications; site visits and interpretation; presentations in various media; and consultation on regulatory review and compliance. Here, I will highlight a few of our collaborative projects.

Visits to archaeological and historical sites are one of my favorite parts of my job. We visit all sorts of sites; some are new to us and others are well known. A few summers ago, Calvin escorted staff to Nightwalker’s Butte, a Hidatsa earthlodge village located in Dunn County. As archaeologists we are able to interpret many things about sites by examining artifacts and features. Working with Calvin provides a different perspective for site interpretation, including knowledge of traditional oral history.

Hiking to Nightwalker's Butte

Hiking to visit Nightwalker’s Butte in Dunn County, led by Calvin Grinnell.

Vicinity of Nightwalker's Butte

The vicinity of Nightwalker’s Butte.

Site visits usually involve a handful of people. However, we reach a broader audience with projects like the documentary, The People of the Upper Missouri: The Mandans. We worked closely with Calvin and other tribal members on the research, interviewing, filming, editing, and production of the video. We found that many folks were keen to share their Mandan history.

People of the Upper Missouri dvd cover

Mandan documentary produced by the State Historical Society of North Dakota in partnership with the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation and the North Dakota Humanities Council.

The largest project the SHSND has undertaken in several decades is the recent expansion and remodel of the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. It involved all agency staff. Many tribal members assisted in the planning of all galleries and the new Native American Hall of Honors. Archaeology and Historic Preservation Division staff was most involved in development of the Early Peoples Gallery. Again, Calvin provided assistance with research and planning of the galleries, and served as president of the State Historical Board during building construction and the grand opening. It was a proud moment for all of us!

Calvin Grinell speaking at the grand opening of the ND Heritage Center & State Museum

Grand Opening of the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum on November 2, 2014. Left to right: Calvin Grinnell, Bismarck City Commissioner Nancy Guy, former First Lady Grace Link, and former ND governors Allen Olson, George Sinner, Ed Schafer, and former governor and US Senator John Hoeven.

Currently, Calvin and Archaeology and Historic Preservation Division staff are researching landscapes of traditional Hidatsa territory. We intend to produce a documentary similar to The People of the Upper Missouri: The Mandans.

Here’s to new and continuing partnerships in the New Year!