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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

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!

Danielle Stuckle's blog

Do Indians Still Live in Tipis? (and How to Find Answers to Other Questions about Native American Culture)

Working in the Communication & Education Division here at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, I find that a lot of people are looking for sources to learn more about Native American culture and history. However, they often aren’t sure where to start. People are really interested in this part of our state’s story, but often didn’t learn much, if anything, in school. Not that they remember anyway. I like to direct them to the Essential Understandings.

North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings

A graphic rendering of the Essential Understandings found at teachingsofourelders.org.

This is a relatively new resource from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction available through teachingsofourelders.org. This website makes videos and other information available to classrooms across the state. The videos feature elders from each of the reservations in North Dakota being interviewed about tribal traditions, stories, and history. The site also has lesson plans developed and vetted in conjunction with the tribes. The Essential Understandings identify the primary themes that tribes and educators want to make sure to convey to all K-12 students. The idea is to make Native American curriculum integrated into all subjects taught in school from math to music to science and history.

There are also great resources through the North Dakota Studies website where a person of any age or ability can begin to learn about the Native American tribes historically associated with what is now the state of North Dakota. The fourth grade unit for ND Studies is available at ndstudies.gov/gr4/american-indians-north-dakota. The eighth grade curriculum at ndstudies.gov/gr8 is also full of opportunities to learn about thousands of years of North Dakota history, up to the present day. There are also four digitized books covering each tribe that has a reservation based in North Dakota at ndstudies.gov/nd_indian_studies. These are all fantastic resources available free online through ND Studies at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

American Indians of North Dakota book cover

The fourth grade unit on American Indians of North Dakota.

For learners with a more academic interest, the History of North Dakota by Elwyn Robinson is also available free online through the University of North Dakota at commons.und.edu/oers/1. Robinson is thought by many who study North Dakota to be one of the most influential scholars to tackle our state’s history. His interpretation continues to have a huge impact on how we think about the history and culture of North Dakota.

Métis case containing quilt, saddle, and clothing

A display about Métis culture in the Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples at the ND Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck

We also like to encourage visitors to come and experience the exhibits and programs at the 57 historic sites and museums managed by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, sites at a number of state parks, national parks, and the reservations themselves. The United Tribes International Powwow, held annually the first weekend after Labor Day in Bismarck, is an excellent opportunity to learn about the culture and history of tribes from around the country.

A Day without History: How your personal history connects with a larger historical narrative

Imagine waking up each morning with amnesia. No recollection of what you like and don’t like. No memory of what matters to you. Do you practice yoga or cook a big breakfast for your family? Do you go to church or pack for a vacation? Do you have a random job or are you on a specific career path? How would you go about your day if you didn’t have the accumulation of personal knowledge that makes you “you?” This is what it would be like to wake up one day without the identity our personal history provides us. Imagine a day without history.

Opened book with an old photo on it

Our personal belongings help tell the story of who we are individually and how we are part of larger communities. Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash

Everything has a history, including us. Your individual story, as well as that of your family, your community, and your country influences every decision you make each and every day. Experiences and memories serve as the building blocks of our identities, but our story is much more than that. It is an accumulation of who our family members are; our relationships with relatives; the family stories we’ve heard; our genealogies. These all contribute to what we know about our personal and collective history. How our family history fits into a larger community history and a larger historical narrative is just the beginning.

Rows of old photos

Family photos and other documents are an important source of the historical record. Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash

In order to understand all the ways history affects our lives, it is important to follow the work of historians who work in colleges, museums, and other organizations. By reading the books they publish, listening to the stories they tell, and attending programs and exhibits they develop, anyone can learn how to tap into a deeper understanding of this history. Studying history helps us understand not only how the past affects the present and future, but also the larger picture of how society works. It tells the story of the human experience and helps us understand our individual purpose. History tells the story of our own lives. It helps provide us with an identity.

Staff at the State Historical Society of North Dakota is closely involved in this important work throughout the state. We do research, write papers, publish books and articles, develop exhibits and programs, document personal histories, and teach other people how to do this work themselves. We can talk to students about the work we do, and we can show you how to come to the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum or some of our state historic sites and do your own research. We want to help you discover all the fascinating and unique stories that together make up the history of North Dakota.

Old books

The work of historians through books, exhibits, and programs tells a story about our world that connects us all to each other and makes history relevant to us all. Photo by Fred Pixlab on Unsplash

History is all around us. It helps anchor us within our larger community and country. It connects us to one another. It is inseparable from who we are as people. The work of history professionals, including those of us working at the State Historical Society, can help you better understand your own personal story. The study of history is relevant to our daily lives. Just try to imagine who you would be without it.