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Demographics - Topography, Climate, and Population

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Topography and Climate

The Fort Berthold Reservation is situated on the western edge of the Missouri Coteau (Hills of the Missouri). Glaciers formed the topography of this area late in the Cretaceous Period. Erosion further shaped the area. The Missouri Coteau and the Coteau Slope separate the central lowlands of North Dakota on the east, from the Great Plains, on the west. The eastern portions of the Fort Berthold Reservation resemble the Great Plains and are characterized by small rolling hills and valleys. The south and western portions of the reservation are comprised of rolling uplands, large hills and valleys, buttes, and badlands.

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara settled and farmed along the river bottom of the Missouri River for centuries. The river’s bottomlands afforded them with ideal spots for home sites. In the summer, they built their lodges near the river and planted their crops on the floodplains accessible to water to sustain their large crops. In the winter, they lived under bluffs that provided protection from depredations, and from the elements. The centuries of existence in the bottomlands, with its rich and fertile soil, allowed the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish time to develop many hybrid forms of beans, corn, squash, and sunflowers. The area was also abundant in chert, a pure and extremely hard, micro-crystalline quartz. Another variety of chert, called Knife River Flint, was used extensively by the ancestors of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara as a raw material for tools. The term “Knife River” is an English translation of the Hidatsa name, Metsi Ashi which was given because flint for knives was quarried along the river. (Hidatsa Curriculum Review Committee, 1999)

Annual precipitation ranges from 14–16 inches. The average number of growing days is 110–119 with approximately 130–139 days of 28 degrees and above temperatures. (U.S. Department of Interior 1971, p. 117, Schneider p. 142)


The Fort Berthold Reservation is divided into six political districts, or segments: Four Bears (tribal government center), Mandaree, Shell Creek (New Town), Lucky Mound (Parshall), Twin Buttes, and White Shield. These segments represent the major settlements of the reservation.

The flooding of the bottomlands of the Missouri River destroyed the long-established Indian population centers of the Fort Berthold Reservation. Before the United States built the reservoir, 289 out of 357 households were living in the reservoir area. The construction of the Garrison Dam and the creation of Lake Sakakawea divided the reservation into five segments. After the original eight communities were moved to the uplands, families were relocated throughout the reservation. Currently, some of the people live in the communities and surrounding areas of Mandaree, White Shield, Twin Buttes, and Four Bears. The current resident population of the Fort Berthold Reservation is approximately 5,915, with an enrolled population of 10,400.

Population—Fort Berthold Reservation
Total Resident Population
Enrolled Members
2000 Census Data
Three Affiliated Tribes Enrollment Office Data

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