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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!

Len Thorson - Melissa Thompson's blog

Collecting History from Dakota Access Pipeline Events

In March 2017, our colleague Geoff Woodcox wrote about the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Museum Division proactively collecting contemporary objects. Specifically, he wrote about staff going to the Oceti Sakowin camp where many of the water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) resided. That blog post explains some of the activities staff took part in as they gathered stories and objects from camps near the Missouri River and Cannonball River confluence in south-central North Dakota.

Along with this kind of fieldwork, we have also requested objects from various entities involved with the protests. To cover the many sides of the DAPL protest story, we collected from as many sources as feasible within our staff time and budget capabilities. These sources include, but are not limited to, the Oceti Sakowin camp water protectors, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota Emergency Services (including Morton County Emergency Management), the North Dakota Highway Patrol, the North Dakota National Guard, and media who spent time in the camps. The following is a small sample of those collecting endeavors:

The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services provided us with a piece of concertina wire, also known as razor wire. This wire was placed in coils along the perimeters of various protest sites. (PAR-2017.044)

Concertina Wire

Morton County Emergency Management gave us riot gear including this riot shield, and other equipment like these flexi cuffs used by law enforcement. (PAR-2017029)

Riot Shield

Lauren Donovan, a reporter with the Bismarck Tribune, collected items while gathering information for stories at the camps. We now have multiple items representing camp life, such as this sign with camp rules and a can of baked beans. Lauren also donated the badge she wore identifying her as press. (PAR-2017009)

Sign reading Welcome to Satellite Camp! Respect that you are on indigenous land. If possible, get oriented by the folks who infited you. Hot to Plug In: Attend campwide orientation, which is daily @ 9 am in the geodome (in the center of camp, south of main road.)

Major French Pope III, of the Army Corps of Engineers, was at the Oceti Sakowin camp negotiating evacuation of the remaining occupants in February 2017. This placard was placed in the window of his vehicle to grant access to the camp. (PAR-2017025)

Plackard reading US Army Corps of Engineers. Oceti Sakowin Camp Cleanup Approved Vehicle

The Department of Water Resources at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe received donated items from across the country to support the water protectors. This handmade flag was sent in by an army veteran from California and is signed with well wishes from a myriad of people. (PAR-2017014)

Flags reading Protect Our Way of Life and Tame the Black Snake! Stand With Standing Rock

Likewise, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department received donated items in support of law enforcement actions. They provided some of those items for our collections. The handprint and drawings are thought to be from a daycare in Mandan, N.D. (PAR-2017045)

Painted American Flag with blue stripe reading Blessed are the Peacemakers... and three pictures supporting law enforcement

The North Dakota Highway Patrol donated a few items from the Oceti Sakowin camp and from the protest on Thanksgiving Day 2016 that blocked Main Avenue in Mandan, N.D. (PAR-2017041)

Sign with red arrow on top and water on bottom reading Kill the Pilgrim Save the Water

The Museum Division is actively collecting additional items from other sources and the agency would like to begin collecting oral histories. These items will be preserved to tell the North Dakota DAPL story for generations.

Return of a Japanese Good Luck Flag

Japanese WWII good luck flag

PAR-2016015 Japanese WWII Yosegaki Hinomaru, good luck flag.

A Japanese flag (PAR-2016015) and a piece of wood with Japanese writing (PAR-2016085) were unaccessioned items recently found in the museum collections storage area (see Lost and Found in the Collections). Lacking any documentation or provenance on these items and with similar, well-documented objects already present in the General Collection, the Museum Collections Committee declined the objects for the collection. After careful deliberation, the committee determined the best route for these objects would be to turn them over to the Obon Society. The Obon Society is a nonprofit organization that specializes in the repatriation of war prizes taken from Japan during World War II. They specifically focus on the repatriation of Good Luck flags, Yosegaki Hinomaru. Before leaving home, it was common for a soldier’s family and friends to write well wishes and to encourage bravery in battle on a small Japanese flag. The flag was then presented to the soldier and the soldier carried the flag with him throughout his time in the war. It was believed that the Yosegaki Hinomaru held a power with their messages that would watch over the soldier and see him through difficult times.The Yosegaki Hinomaru were popular war prizes among US soldiers, and many flags were taken from Japanese soldiers and brought back to the United States. We currently have 3 Yosegaki Hinomarus in the Society’s collection. Now, many veterans and family members of WWII veterans are returning these flags and other war prizes back to Japan. The flags hold deep meaning for Japanese families. For many families, these returned war prizes are the only remains of the soldier they will ever receive.

PAR-2016085 Wooden plank with identification information written in Japanese.

Although the Obon Society focuses most of their efforts on the good luck flags, they accept other personal items that were taken from Japanese servicemen including diaries and letters. For this reason, we also transferred the piece of wood with writing on it to the Obon Society. The writing on the wood gives identifying information, similar to the kind of information that would be on a military dog tag. Hopefully the Obon Society will be able to trace the name written on the wood to a living family member.

The Obon Society is not always successful in their endeavors, but they try to send all items back to a family member. If that is not possible, they try to find the community the soldier was from and give it to a community center, local government, or even a local shrine.

The Obon Society believes that returning these war prizes is an exercise of goodwill and friendship between two nations and a symbol of reconciliation. It can bring closure to families both in Japan and the United States. The Obon Society’s work has been endorsed by the American Embassy in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Museum Collections Committee believed this was an opportunity for the State Historical Society of North Dakota to contribute to a humanitarian cause.

The State Historical Board approved the repatriation action at their October 10, 2016, meeting. The proper paperwork was filled out and the flag and wood were shipped to the Obon Society in November. We have since received a thank you letter letting us know we will be notified when the objects are being researched and whether or not the Obon Society was able to trace the items to the family or town from which they came.

If you would like to find out more about the Obon Society and their mission, visit http://obonsociety.org. You can also learn more from the video, A Peaceful Return.