Indigenous Peoples of North Dakota

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The name North Dakota is from a Sioux word meaning "friend" or "Allies"

About 6,000 indigenous people lived in North Dakota in 1910. Many of them lived on reservations, but many did not. When the 1915 and 1925 state censuses were taken, Indians were enumerated throughout the state in the townships and counties where they lived and were designated as Indians on those censuses. By 1970 there were over 25,000.

Various field offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- superintendencies, agencies, Indian schools, and others --created records of births, marriages, deaths, adoptions, censuses, schools, land allotments, probates, and other miscellaneous records. Many of these records are available only at the originating office, if that office is still operating. Some of the original records have been transferred to the National Archives or to the Central Plains Regional Archives of NARA.  The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has microfilm copies of some of these records.

To learn how to get started with Native American research, find research facilities, and Native American websites click here.

Tribes and Bands of North Dakota[edit | edit source]

The following list of American Indians who have lived in North Dakota has been compiled from Hodge's Handbook of American Indians...[1] and from Swanton's The Indian Tribes of North America[2]. Some may simply be variant spellings for the same tribe.


The Affiliated Tribes: Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara

Agencies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs[edit | edit source]

Agencies and subagencies were created as administrative offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its predecessors. Their purpose was (and is) to manage Indian affairs with the tribes, to enforce policies, and to assist in maintaining the peace. The names and location of these agencies may have changed, but their purpose remained basically the same. Many of the records of genealogical value were created by these offices.

The following list of agencies that have operated or now exist in North Dakota has been compiled from Hill's Office of Indian Affairs...[3], Hill's Guide to Records in the National Archives Relating to American Indians[4], and others.

Records[edit | edit source]

The majority of records of individuals were those created by the agencies. Some records may be available to tribal members through the tribal headquarters.They were (and are) the local office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and were charged with maintaining records of the activities of those under their responsibility. Among these records are:

Allotment Records[edit | edit source]

Allotted Tribes of North Dakota

•Fort Berthold ( Mandan, Arikara, Gros Ventre), Spirit Lake (Devil’s Lake), Turtle Mountain

Indian Schools[edit | edit source]

The Office of Indian Affairs (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) established a network of schools throughout the United States, beginning with Carlisle Indian School, established in 1879. Some of these schools were day schools, usually focusing on Indian children of a single tribe or reservation. Some were boarding schools which served Indian children from a number of tribes and reservations.

In addition, other groups such as various church denominations established schools specifically focusing on American Indian children. (read more...)

The following list of Indian Schools in North Dakota has been compiled from Hill's Office of Indian Affairs...FHL book 970.1 H551o, and Hill's Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians. Washington DC: National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1981. FHL book 970.1 H551g

Dakota Superintendency[edit | edit source]

Family History Library has, Records of the Dakota Superintendency of Indian Affairs, 1861-1870 and 1877-1878, and the Wyoming Superintendency, 1870. FHL film 1549631 (first of 13 films)

Reservations[edit | edit source]

From the mid-1800s, the official policy of the United States government toward Native Americans was to confine each tribe to a specific parcel of land called a reservation. Agencies were established on or near each reservation. A government representative, usually called an agent (or superintendent) was assigned to each agency. Their duties included maintaining the peace, making payments to the Native Americans based on the stipulations of the treaties with each tribe, and providing a means of communication between the native population and the federal government.

Sometimes, a single agency had jurisdiction over more than one reservation. And sometimes, if the tribal population and land area required it, an agency may have included sub-agencies.

The boundaries of reservations, over time, have changed. Usually, that means the reservations have been reduced in size. Sometimes, especially during the later policy of "termination," the official status of reservations was ended altogether.

For a current reservation map - North Dakota - Indian Reservations - The National Atlas of the United States of America. Federal Lands and Indian Reservations. by the U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Geological Survey.

The following list of reservations has been compiled from the National Atlas of the United States of America[5], the Omni Gazetteer of the United States of America[6], and other sources. Those reservations named in bold are current federally-recognized reservations, with their associated agency and tribe(s). Others have historically been associated with the state or are not currently recognized by the federal government.

There are five federally-recognized Indian reservations in North Dakota -- the Fort Berthold Reservation in west-central North Dakota, the Lake Traverse Reservation in the southeastern corner of North Dakota, the Spirit Lake Reservation in the east-central part of North Dakota, the Standing Rock Reservation in south-central North Dakota and northern South Dakota, and the Turtle Mountain Reservation in north-central North Dakota, near the Canadian border..

  • Fort Berthold Reservation - The Fort Berthold Reservation is located in west-central North Dakota in ____________ Counties. It originally consisted of ____ acres. Some of the towns located within the reservation include ___________. The tribes on the reservation are known as the Three Affiliated Tribes -- the Hidatsa, Arikara, and Mandan. It is under the jurisdiction of the Fort Berthold Agency
  • Lake Traverse Reservation - The major portion of the Lake Traverse Reservation is located in South Dakota. A very small corner of it protrudes into southeastern North Dakota in Sargent and Richland Counties.
  • Spirit Lake Reservation - Created in 1871, it originally contained about 230,000 acres and was known as the Devils Lake Reservation. It is located in east-central North Dakota, mostly in Benson County. The reservation was initially under the jurisdiction of the Devils Lake Agency. The name of the agency was changed in 1906 to the Fort Totten Agency, under which it currently operates. The reservation has sometimes been called the Fort Totten Reservation. The major towns within the reservation boundaries are Fort Totten, Harmar, St, Michael, and Warwick. Devils Lake is the closest larger town, but is just off the reservation. The Devils Lake Sioux are actually a part of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Band. They are closely related to the Sisseton in South Dakota and to the Sioux living west of Brandon, Manitoba.
  • Standing Rock Reservation - Standing Rock Reservation is located in south-central North Dakota and in north-central South Dakota. It consists of over 3500 square miles in Sioux County, North Dakota and Corson County, South Dakota, along with small parts of Dewey and Ziebach Counties, South Dakota, The population of 8250 (2000 pop. figures) are Dakota and Lakota Sioux.
  • Turtle Mountain Reservation - The Turtle Mountain Reservation was established in Dec. 1882 and is located primarily in the Turtle Mountains in Rolette County, North Dakota. This federally-recognized reservation consists of approximately 70 square miles. The population on the reservation is about 6,000 (2000 pop. figures).

In addition to the main portion of the reservation, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa also hold title to approximately 170 square miles of trust lands scattered throughout some 22 counties in North Dakota and Montana, with a smaller portion in South Dakota.

Records[edit | edit source]

The primary records holders are the originating offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and of the respective tribes. Some of those records have been transferred to the National Archives or its Regional Archives. Some original and/or microcopied records have been collected by universities, historical societies, museums, and individuals.

Family History Library

Records of various American Indian tribes are listed in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under NORTH DAKOTA - NATIVE RACES and in the Subject Search under the name of the tribe, such as "Sioux" or "Chippewa."

Archives, Libraries, and Museums[edit | edit source]

Glenbow Archive, Library, and Museum

The Glenbow Archives and Library, has an excellent collection of resources for the study of Métis genealogy. Their sources cover predominantly Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and some parts of the Northwest Territories, Ontario, and British Columbia.

Most of our sources pertain to people who were living in the Prairie Provinces in 1900 or earlier.

One unique collection is the Gail Morin database. The collection consists of a database of 65,434 records of persons who were Metis ancestors. For each individual, dates and places of birth, baptism, marriage, death, and burial, and notes on sources are given if known. Using Ancestral Quest software, the data can be linked to show genealogical relationships in the form of pedigree charts and descendancy charts. The database is available only with the assistance of the Archives staff in the reading room of the Glenbow Archives. The database is fully searchable online.

Contact: Glenbow Archives
130 - 9 Avenue
SE Calgary, Alberta T2G 0P3
Reference Desk telephone: 403-268-4204

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

See also American Indian For Further Reading.

Click this button for links to databases, indexes, or sites that help you find a Native American ancestor by topic or tribe.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Washington D.C.:Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin #30 1907. Available online.
  2. Swanton John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin #145 Available online.
  3. Hill, Edward E. The Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880: Historical Sketches, Clearwater Publishing Co., Inc. 1974. (Family History Library book 970.1 H551o.)
  4. Hill, Edward E. (comp.). Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians. Washington DC: National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1981. (FHL book 970.1 H551g.)
  5. National Atlas of the United States of America -- Federal Lands and Indian Reservations Available online.
  6. Isaacs. Katherine M., editor. Omni Gazetteer of the United States of America. U.S. Data Sourcebook, Volume 11 Appendices, Bureau of Indian Affairs List of American Indian Reservations, Appendix E, Indian Reservations. Omnigraphics, Inc., 1991.