Section 1: Introduction
By 1882, most of the American Indians of the northern Great Plains resided on reservations established by the federal government. Five reservations were established partially or wholly in northern Dakota Territory. They were (and still are) Standing Rock Reservation (Lakota and Yanktonai), Fort Berthold Reservation (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara), Turtle Mountain Reservation (Chippewa), Fort Totten Reservation (Dakota; now called Spirit Lake Reservation), Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation (Dakota). (See Map 1)
Before 1860, each of these tribes had pursued ways of making a living (economies) based on the resources available to them. The sedentary tribes raised crops, hunted, and traded. The nomadic tribes hunted and traded. They worked appropriately for the season which means that they did most of their hunting in the late summer and early Fall. They raised crops in the spring and summer. Other means of making a living such as making and decorating clothing, extracting Knife River flint, or trading took place when time allowed.
When the tribes were forced to accept a reservation, they lost some of their economic activities such as hunting bison and gathering native plants. The loss of these economies was very harmful to the tribes. The move to reservations resulted in poverty, illness, and a declining tribal population.
There were, however, new resources available to tribes through trade and through their federal annuities. Metal goods were welcomed. Stoves heated their houses and cooked their food. Women found the metal kettles to be efficient in cooking.
The federal government assigned agents to each reservation. (See Image 1) Missionaries often established churches and schools on the reservations. Both agents and missionaries taught the Dakotas, Lakotas, Chippewas, Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras new skills that would help them adjust to life on the reservation. Sometimes these skills, such as farming or blacksmithing, helped to provide food, clothing, or housing for the tribes. Some skills generated income through sales to non-Indian visitors and tourists. Indians did the work necessary to help their families survive, but many found it difficult to learn new ways and to give up traditions that had given them a comfortable life for thousands of years. (See Image 2)