Friday, February 8, 2013

Preserving The Story Of Killdeer Mountain

An image of a soldier engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a warrior. The image is engraved upon the elevator doors on the ground floor and main floor. 
Preserving The Story Of Killdeer Mountain
Public Hearing: Energy Development At Site
By Dakota Wind
BISMARCK, N.D. – The polished hall outside the Missouri Room of the Bismarck State Capital building gradually filled with archaeologists, historians, tribal representatives and land owners from around Killdeer Mountain, all from different disciplines and walks of life, all concerned citizens of a proud state.

The study area of the Killdeer Mountain Conflict within the purple boundary.

The citizenry gathered in little groups here and there to introduce themselves and exchange greetings. It seemed like a fellowship of near universal concerns that brought everyone together, and life is like that. Sometimes it takes one thing to bring people together who might not have met in another situation.

An alarming amount of existing wells and proposed wells within the Killdeer Mountain Conflict area.

The hearing was scheduled at 2:00 PM CST and the fellowship exchanged the hall of polished stone and brass for the quiet cell of the Missouri River Room. A coterie of archaeologists clustered together in one corner, the tribal representatives quietly moved themselves to a corner close to the front, and historians scattered amongst the throng. Chit chat grew to a loud buzz, and though the Government and Veteran Affairs Committee was delayed an hour the motley collection of citizens didn't seem to grow impatient.

This is North Dakota, and sometimes things happen when they’re scheduled to, and other times things happen when they should. Farmers might call it natural time, Indians would agree.

Senator Triplett explains that next year marks the 150th anniversary of the Killdeer Mountain Conflict. "Its an opportunity for the state to reflect on the tragedy that shaped our statehood and include the story that has been under represented these long years," said Triplett, or something like that - my pen could not move fast enough.

The good people who made up the committee apologized for their unexpected delay and things quickly got started when Chairman Dever (Dist. 32, Bismarck) brought the gavel down with great ceremony and authority.  The hearing was to hear Senate Bill 2341, a proposal by senators on either end of the political spectrum, introduced by Sen. Wardner (Dist. 37, Dickinson) but the voice of the bill was provided by Senator Triplett (Dist. 18, Grand Forks).

Senate Bill 2341 proposed to appropriate $250,000 to do an archaeological and historical survey of the Killdeer Mountain conflict study area. A packed room of about forty-five people, including the good senators, heard testimony from several individuals representing various entities, and a few who spoke as private citizens.

Paaverud maintained an impeccable composure of respect for the committee as he endorsed the Heritage Center's support of the bill.

Mr. Merlan Paaverud and Ms. Fern Swenson represented the interests of the State Historical Society of North Dakota and voiced the SHSND’s endorsement of this bill. Ms. Swenson offered that the Killdeer Mountain study area consists of 17,433 acres or about 23 square miles, a core area of about 5,421 acres and only about 569 acres has been surveyed. Swenson also shared that the site has had a continual cultural occupation for the past 3,000 years.

Dr. Isern addresses the committee. He said his piece in about five minutes or less and gave some handouts with points explaining the nature of heritage preservation. 

Dr. Tom Isern, Director of the Institute for RegionalStudies, rendered a concise and wonderful explanation of the intrinsic value of Killdeer Mountain as a heritage site and acknowledged the attraction of the site to hikers and lovers of history and nature who would be drawn to this site, as many like-minded visitors have in the past. Dr. Isern expressed his institute’s support of the bill.

An immaculately groomed Aaron Barth (looking at the camera) visited with Mr. Jepson of Killdeer.

A few concerned citizens took to offering their support of this bill. Mr. Aaron Barth, founding writer of The Edge Of The Village, shared the need to survey and catalogue the Killdeer Mountain as a start to preserve the story of the site, if the natural integrity of the site is to be developed. “There’s a story to tell, and we must do all we can to share it,” as he compared the need to tell the stories of all combatants, like the American Civil War.

Without waver or hesitation, Young shared a resolution regarding sacred places from the National Congress of American Indians.

Ms. Waště'Wiŋ Young, Standing Rock Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, took the stand and pointedly stated that “the Indian voice has yet to be heard.” Young boldly shared with the committee a resolution adopted by the National Congress of American Indians in October of 2012 regarding the protection and preservation of sacred places. She read the whole thing, expressed her office’s support of Senate Bill 2341, and quietly departed.

Bravebull-Allard representing Standing Rock Tourism supports this bill.

Ms. LaDonna Bravebull-Allard, Director of Standing RockTourism, shared her lineage going back to survivors who were at Killdeer Mountain when General Sully forced his command on the Yanktonai Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota and Santee Dakota. Bravebull-Allard spoke about how Killdeer Mountain was a sacred site, not just to the Dakota and Lakota people, but the Mandan, Hidatsa, Chippewa and Assiniboine. With practiced confidence of a story-teller she shared that the site was where Sun Dreamer ascended Killdeer Mountain in 1625. Bravebull-Allard’s office supports this bill.

St. John spoke with dignified authority, less than two minutes, and left many of the committee nodding their heads in approval of her gracious support.

Ms. Tamara St. John, Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, eloquently and briefly echoed Young’s and Bravebull-Allard’s sentiments of protecting a special site like Killdeer Mountain and her office’s support of the bill.

Sand called for the state to move carefully and deliberately to preserve North Dakota's heritage sites.

Mr. Rob Sand, a representative of the Killdeer MountainAlliance, a tall gentleman with the gait of a lifelong rancher took to the podium briefly and passionately encouraged oil development to wait. Sand offered the support of the Killdeer Mountain Alliance in favor of the bill.

Rothaus, self-described hard-boiled skeptic, put the bill on a scale but explained the overwhelming need to preserve as much of the story of Killdeer as possible and endorsed the bill.

Dr. Richard Rothaus, founder and director of TrefoilCultural and Natural, drove like a mad man from his office in Sauk Rapids, MN to render cold and succinct explanation of the Killdeer Mountain conflict’s standing in US military history as one of the largest, if not the single largest, Indian-White conflict in the west and why North Dakota needs to preserve as much of the conflict site and stories as possible. A former university professor, Rothaus came across brutally blunt but also exceptionally honest. He also endorsed his support of the bill.

Dvirnak proudly wore a Fighting Sioux windbreaker to the hearing. 

Lastly, Mr. Bryan Dvirnak, a lifelong rancher on family-owned and managed land at Killdeer Mountain, shared his family’s generations-long commitment to the preserving the cultural and historic integrity of the conflict site. “No one has done more to preserve and protect the site. We’re all for preserving the property,” said Dvirnak in a moving testimony to the committee. Dvirnak expressed that his brother could best articulate how their family has forged relationships with various Indian communities in state and  into Canada. The Dvirnaks have graciously allowed traditional ceremonies and prayers to be conducted on their land throughout the years.

Dvirnak, regardless of his family’s openness to the American Indian presence on his family’s land, managed to convey his open skepticism of the bill. “What will the [archaeological] study do?” he wondered aloud. Dvirnak conveyed his disillusionment with the bill, the sharpest point of his argument manifested itself in his question about what the bill would mandate him to do on his own land.

The bill doesn’t mandate anyone to do anything on their own private land. In fact, the bill mandates that the archaeologists who conduct the investigation must acquire the permissions of all landowners in the study and core areas of the Killdeer Mountain conflict. Senator Dever, the chairman of the Government and Veterans Committee, understood Mr. Dvirnak’s position and told Sen. Triplett to include language in Senate Bill 2341 that expressly and clearly articulates a mandate for archaeologists to acquire permission of landowners to survey on their land.

Mr. Dvirnak and his family have the best intentions, a family mission taken to heart, passed down from father to sons, to preserve the heritage of Killdeer Mountain. They opened their lands in the past to the Indian communities. They also donated a tidy collection of artifacts from the KilldeerMountain conflict to Dickinson State University.

They did this because there’s a story that needs to be preserved and shared, and that’s something that everyone who testified can agree. 

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