UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Colonial encounters, narrative production, and the possibilities of the personal : exploring historical memory and meaning in central North Dakota, 1911-1955 Bridenstine, Stephen A.


In the winter of 1804-1805, the men of the United States Corps of Discovery or Lewis and Clark Expedition resided with the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians at their villages in present-day North Dakota. The hospitality the expedition received from these Indigenous residents in the form of material aid and the guide Sacagawea helped establish their critical role in what would become one of America's premier foundation myths by the early twentieth century. This thesis argues that both the Three Affiliated Tribes (the modern Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara nation) and the Euro-American settler residents of Mercer County, North Dakota deployed the narratives of hospitality in the Lewis and Clark story to further their own community interests in the early twentieth century. For the settlers this meant progress and a prosperous settler future while for the Three Tribes it meant stopping progress, in the form of Garrison Dam. The first section explores the long history of colonial interaction between the Three Affiliated Tribes and numerous non-Indigenous visitors to their homeland on the upper Missouri River. These personal encounters with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and later settlers resulted in both positive and negative experiences for the Indigenous residents. The second section analyzes booster rhetoric, published histories, and a Lewis and Clark themed historical pageant produced by leading citizens of the settler community in Mercer County, North Dakota. It demonstrates how a colonialist discourse of progress, Manifest Destiny, and a vanishing Indian race rendered Indigenous people as historic helpers in the establishment of a colonial state (despite their acknowledged contemporary presence). The third section shows how representatives of the Three Affiliated Tribes deployed their own narrative of hospitable colonial encounters during U.S. Senate hearings to try and block the construction of the Garrison Dam that threatened to flood out their reservation. In the end, this thesis argues that despite a tradition of hospitality and respect expressed in historical narratives, a stronger colonialist discourse determined both the main message of the settler narratives and the decision to construct Garrison Dam.

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