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Documents - Document 2 - Testimony of Jefferson Smith - Hidatsa, against the Injustice of the Garrison Dam

Mortality | Garrison Dam | Treaty Arikara 1825 |
Treaty Minnitaree 1825 | Treaty Mandan 1825 |
Agreement 1866 | Fort Laramie Treaty, 1851

Testimony of Jefferson Smith - Hidatsa,
Against the Injustice of the Garrison Dam

(April 30, 1949—Washington, D.C.)

Mr. Chairman, my name is Jefferson B. Smith, a member of the Gros Ventre (Hidatsa) Tribe, an official delegate of the Tribal Business Council of the Three Affiliated Tribes, compromising the Arickaree, the Gros Ventres, and the Mandan and the individual members thereof. The United States of America, before its advent as a Nation, was a haven for the oppressed of other lands. Political, religious, and economic oppression in Europe caused the Pilgrim Fathers to seek homes, freedom and greater opportunity in the New World. These Pilgrims, upon their arrival in 1620, were welcomed by the native Americans. They were given land and all that was within. In a short period of time, greed for gain became evident. The white man, motivated by a great desire to acquire additional territory, compelled the Indians to move thither and yon. Thus began the racial discrimination, plundering, stripping, despoiling him of his property; a delimitation of Indian tribal boundaries.

The Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota have always maintained utmost good faith and friendship with the United States. Many years ago, upon meeting his first white man, who aroused his admiration to a high degree, one of our chiefs decreed to his people that the white man was their friend and that there should ever exist a mutual and friendly relationship. When Lewis and Clark were designated to explore the land which comprised the Louisiana Purchase of 1804, they found a very friendly people in the three tribes. They were afforded food and protection. The famed Indian woman known as Bird Woman guided the expedition westward. Many of our Indians joined the United States troops as scouts in the pioneer days and have rendered valuable services. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs in his report dated November 1, 1873, said of the Three Affiliated Tribes, pages 158 and 159:

The Indians of these agencies deserve more from
the Government than any other tribes in Dakota
on account of their fidelity to the Government
and the faithful services rendered by them as
scouts in compelling other Indians to keep the

Another report dated August 31, 1874, pages 159 to 160, contains the following:

The military have found them the most brave
and reliable of all Indian scouts. But
notwithstanding their established friendliness, I
found them in an intensively dissatisfied state of
mind. They complained that while they had steadily
kept the “straight path,” the Government had not
done so; the whites had lied to them, cheated
them, and actually allowed them to starve, instead
of feeding them and caring for them as promised in
all their treaty councils. Unfortunately, and to
our shame, their declarations are too true.

The proposal of the United States to negotiate treaties with the Arickaree, Gros Ventre, and Mandan Indians was gladly accepted as a kindly gesture.

The three tribes inhabited the Dakotas and eastern Montana. They were once populous tribes. It is a common knowledge among our older people that on or about the year 1837 a boat drifted down the river bearing some white men, one of which was allowed to remain at an Indian village. He had smallpox. Ravages of the disease nearly exterminated the tribes.

The United States entered into a solemn treaty with Arickaree, Gros Ventre, and Mandan Indians on or about September 17, 1851. The treaty lands as claimed by the three tribes were as follows: Commencing at the mouth of the Heart River, up the Missouri, Yellowstone, and Powder Rivers, to the headwaters of the Little Missouri River, to the foothills of the Black Hills, to the Heart River and place of beginning, containing about 13 million acres.

Across the span of our national history, it is inconceivable that treaties with Indians which have been sacredly solemnized and duly ratified have been violated by its author—the United States Government. The construction of the Garrison Dam which will inundate a large portion of our treaty land is a more recent violation of treaty. The Three Affiliated Tribes now deem that their faith and friendship with the Federal Government has worked largely to their undoing. It is quite evident that the Indians have done most of the giving and the United States Government most of the taking.

The native Americans, who in the remote past reigned supreme in all they possessed by immemorial right of occupancy, are an underprivileged minority group against whom many illegal forms of oppression and discrimination are practiced. Belonging to a minority group whose skin is pigmented seems to be a disqualification which serves as a bar in preventing participation in the benefits of American justice.

At one time in the past, the United States Government recognized the importance of fair treatment for the Indians and on July 13, 1787, it adopted the Northwest Ordinance, section 3 of which reads as follows:

The uttermost good faith shall always be observed
toward the Indians; their lands and property shall
never be taken from them without their consent; and
in their property, rights, and liberty they shall never
be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful
ways authorized by Congress, but laws founded in
justice and humanity shall, from time to time be
made for preventing wrongs being done to them,
and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

In 1944 Congress authorized five dams to be constructed on the main stem of the Missouri River, one of which was the Garrison Dam.

This reservoir, when completed, will destroy the homes, the lands and the economy of the Fort Berthold Indians. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was violated when the matter was not referred to the Indians for consideration. Preliminary work on the dam was well begun when a Colonel Freeman furnished us information that the Garrison Dam would flood some of the best land the Indian possessed, but that they would be given other land of equal value. The land offered included for the most part, the area known as the Little Missouri River Badlands. Much of the land offered is devoid of any vegetation. We refused the disgraceful offer. We have rejected other offers because we feel that our rights were not protected.

In July of 1947, Councilmen Packineau, Mahto, and I were present at the hearings before the Subcommittee on War Department Civil Appropriation Act, Public Law 296, to prevent, if possible, the flooding of our lands. The pleas we made to save our land, homes, and our economy was given a deaf ear. Our offer of an alternate plan and location of a dam was not considered. An offer of $5,105,625 was made.

We requested a compensation of a larger amount. There was disagreement and no further offer was made. We returned home to learn to our dismay that it was reported on the floor of the Senate Chamber that the Indians agreed to the offer. We did not agree to the offer and, hence, we charge that the offer was false and illegal. We protest the wrong being done to us by the illegal action and methods. The Indian has become inferior to the white man, he is forced to serve him and is subject to his master’s orders. Because the Indian is weak and docile, he is wronged and imposed upon.

It has been a requirement of law that a contract be entered into by the United States Government and the Three Affiliated Tribes in the apportionment of the funds which was supposed to have been agreed upon by the Indians. The contract has been completed in compliance with the law. It is awaiting the ratification by Congress.

A grave situation confronts the Three Affiliated Tribes. The United States Government has entered into solemn treaties with the Indians. The treaties were made, composed, and devised by a commission authorized by the United States Government (Indians being illiterate and belong to a lesser social and economic caste), for the sole benefit and strictly in accordance with the desire of the Government. It has defaulted and broken the treaties. Will the present contract or treaty meet the same fate? The abuse and misuse of its ward Indians has created an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust that no future time can repair.

The Tribal Business Council of the Three Affiliated Tribes has signed the contract with tears in their eyes and heavy hearts. Being compelled to surrender about 155,000 acres of our best lands to the United States Government, thereby disrupting our homes and economy, the future looks dark and dismal to the Fort Berthold Indians. We are being punished for being Indians by a Christian nation.

The United States Government is the strongest, the wealthiest, and the freest nation in the world. It has furnished billions of dollars to Europe, Asia, and Latin America, much of which will never be reimbursed. The Government owes its wards a moral obligation. It is the guardian and bound by every moral and equitable consideration to discharge its trust with good faith.

Continue to Document 3 - Treaty with the Arikara Tribe, 1825...