Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Watchman's Village, A Mandan Indian Village

On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village is located within Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.  The state park is located about seven miles south of Mandan, ND on HWY 1806. 
Watchman's Village, A Mandan Indian Village
On-A-Slant Village Known By Other Name
By Dakota Wind
MANDAN, N.D. - The Mandan Indians refer to themselves as Nu’Eta, which means “The People.”  They became known as Mandan after the arrival of Pierre de la Sieur de la Verendrye in 1738.  Verendrye was guided by Assiniboine Sioux Indians to the Nu’Eta, and when he reached the earthlodge people, he asked the Assiniboine what to call the Nu’Eta.  The Assiniboine and other bands of the Dakota and Lakota people refer to the Nu’Eta as “Miwatani,” a name in reference to the water and boats the Nu’Eta employed on the Missouri River.  Of course, Verendrye wasn’t familiar with this new word and wrote in his journal not Miwatani, but Mantannes. 

The English, like Dave Thompson, Pierre Dorian, and John Evans, pronounced “Mantannes” as it looked: Man Tans.  The English were trading in the Heart River-Knife River region in the 1790s.  When Americans ascended the Missouri River in 1804 as part of the Corps of Discovery Expedition they pronounced Man Tans as “Mandan,” which doesn’t mean anything. 

The On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village is referred to in the Nu’Eta language as “Miti bah-wah-esh,” the village slanting.  But that’s not what the Nu’Eta who lived there referred to it as either.  The Nu’Eta, like Shehek Shote, or White Wolf, who were from that village, knew it as Watchman’s Village, and if I could write it or pronounce it I’d share it here. 

The Nu’Eta who lived at Watchman’s Village, or On-A-Slant Village, lived there from about 1550 until 1781 when a smallpox epidemic struck them.  The survivors moved north to Knife River and settled in the vicinity of the Mnitarri Indians (Hidatsa), which is where the English and Americans traded with them.  While they resided at Watchman’s Village, the Nu’Eta lived in about eighty-six earthlodges. 

The Nu’Eta refer to earthlodges as mah’AHG oh-dee (I’m writing it phonetically as best I can, for I’ve seen it written three different ways).  The earthlodge in the background is treated as a ceremonial lodge.  The Nu’Eta might have ceremonies or other communal get-togethers there.  The ceremonial lodge is Tixopinic and is pronounced somewhat like Tih ĤO pih nik with a guttural sound on the “Ĥ.”  It literally means, “Medicine Lodge.” 

The Nu’Eta refer to the structure in the foreground which might resemble a stockade as Mni Mih Douxx, or the Lone Man’s Shrine.  Literally, it means “The Water’s Middle Mark.”  Inside the structure of the stockade is a red cedar post which the Nu’Eta refer to as Numak Maxana, The Lone Man.  One might pronounce it: Nū MAHK MAĤ-ehna, with a guttural sound on the “Ĥ.”

The entire Lone Man’s Shrine represents the Nu’Eta flood story. 

A look inside the council lodge or medicine lodge.  This lodge actually didn’t exist here at this particular village site.  According to Stan Ahler’s archaeological report, there were only eighty-six earthlodges period.  The council lodge wasn’t built until the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the guidance of Scattered Corn, a Nu’Eta Corn priestess.  Even then, the council lodge constructed by the CCC was about ninety feet in diameter, this reconstruction is about sixty-five feet across. 

Here’s a picture of the boss, Scattered Corn.  She has a face like a fist and probably had a voice like a whip to go with it.  Scattered Corn was taught how to construct an earthlodge at the age of thirteen, for in the Nu’Eta tradition women build the earthlodges, not the men (but men did help in that they gathered the materials and prepared the timbers for construction).  Nu’Eta women could complete an earthlodge in as little as seven to ten days, but generally ten to fourteen days. 

From this perspective we can see the Lone Man Shrine is about in the middle of an open plaza.  The Nu’Eta would have public celebrations in the plaza.  In addition to the lodges being picked clean of grass and weeds, the plaza wouldn’t have any either.  The Nu’Eta were known for keeping clean villages, no grass, no weeds, and no refuse blowing around the village.  According to Stan Ahler’s archaeological report, where the council lodge is built is where a public midden-mound used to be. 

A view inside the museum.  Ranger Diane tried to duck under the desk as I took this picture.  The interior was wonderfully redesigned by the late Mark Kenneweg, who opened the museum up and showcased the expansive interior. 

A painted bison robe can be found inside the museum.  The hide was brain-tanned, the traditional method, where the tanner uses the brain matter to tan the animal’s own hide.  Hides that are tanned this traditional way are generally soft and creamy in color.  Some tribes, and some of the old world tanners, used urine to tan a hide, which would smell like urine when/if the hide got wet.  I’m happy to say that the brain-tanned method smells naturally clean.  The paints used on this hide are natural pigments.  Green comes from copper rust, red from burnished red clay, yellow from an animal’s gall bladder, and black from spent firewood.  The natural pigments are usually dried to a powder for storage, then mixed with a smidgeon of animal fat or grease and/or water to apply it. 

In the center of the airy space of the museum is a beautifully executed diorama of the Nu’Eta village showing how it may have looked like.  It is skillfully rendered and truly an artist’s conception, not a historical or archaeological one.  There should be no medicine lodge in the village, and there should be no grass in the village.  What’s missing is the midden-mound, drying stages (two to three for every earthlodge), some of the lodges would have had effigy poles standing upright outside the entrances as well, and paths into the ravine and down to the river.  And there should be eighty-six earthlodges. 

Some say that Mattie Grinnell was the last Nu’Eta.  She died in the 1970s and marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights era out in Washington DC.  One can see the warmth of her personality in her smile, and sadness in her eyes too.  It is said that she was about one hundred years old.  Grinnell isn’t the last of the Nu’Eta.  They can still be found on and off the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.  The very descendants of Shehek Shote, White Wolf, the Nu’Eta civil chief who journeyed east to meet with President Thomas Jefferson can be found right in Bismarck and Mandan today.  There are still full-blooded Nu’Eta today, though it would be impolite to ask a Nu’Eta to see his or her enrollment card. Take their word they’re still with us, they gave no lie to the Corps of Discovery, President Jefferson, Catlin or Bodmer. 

Mr. Gillette, a representative of the Arikara (Sahnish), Hidatsa, and Mandan (Nu’Eta) is moved to tears in this famous picture of the forceful taking of traditional lands.  Secretary of the Interior Mr. William Chaplis signs the order to take more land in 1948 for the eventual construction of Garrison Dam, and the flooding of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, where the three tribes are located.  This image can be found in the museum. 

The Corps of Discovery camped about a half-mile north of Watchman’s village in October 1804.  This painting can be found in the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park museum.  There is a terrible irony with the marked presence of the Corps of Discovery.  The captains walked along the western bank of the Missouri River here where seventy years later was constructed Fort Abraham Lincoln, the last command of General Custer.  William Clark fathered at least one son with a Nez Perce woman.  That son and his son were taken captive by Colonel Nelson Miles at the Battle of Bearpaw Mountain in present-day Montana, about twenty miles south of the Medicine Line, the boundary between Canada and the US.  Those captives were taken to Bismarck, with the official internment listing as being at Fort Abraham Lincoln.  Captain William Clark's son and grandson were imprisoned where he once tread in the spirit of peace and discovery. 

Then the Nez Perce were shipped off to Oklahoma