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Three Affiliated Tribes Government - Modern Three Affiliated Tribes Government

Traditional Government | Modern Three Affiliated Tribes Government

Modern Three Affiliated Tribes Government

From the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, much of the leadership for many tribes was by government appointed agents and superintendents, and the Indian Bureau. Like many tribes, through a series of executive orders and allotment acts, their land base was severely diminished.

In 1910, the Three Affiliated Tribes formed a ten-member business council. This body was referred to as “The Ten,” whose function it was to advise the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Early leadership was represented by members of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (Sahnish) members who attended church and boarding schools, such as Carlisle and Hampton Institutes. In later years, some of these individuals returned and assumed leadership roles in the tribal government.

Between 1887 and 1934, Indian tribes throughout the United States lost 190 million acres of land. During this period, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (Sahnish) lost approximately 12 million acres, mostly through Congress adding provisions to legislation without notification to the tribes. The major shift in government policy was brought on by the passage of the Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934, known as the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The federal government designed this legislation to stop the rapid loss of Indian lands. Tribes were presented with the opportunity to reorganize as legal entities under this legislation. As a result, many tribes drew up constitutions. Others did not. The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (Sahnish) formally joined together under this legislation in 1934 and became the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Tribal Administration Headquarters, Three Affiliated Tribes
Tribal Administration Building. The Three Affiliated Tribes headquarters
is located just west of New Town along North Dakota Highway #23.
(Photo by Neil Howe)

Indian Reorganization Act

The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ policy makers during the 1930s supported the revival of Indian culture and sovereignty and adopted a policy that “Indians best solved Indian problems.” John Collier, then Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was the leading force behind the Indian Reorganization Act. This milestone legislation, known also as the “Collier Plan—the Indian New Deal” or “Home Rule,” was a broad-based legislation that allowed Indian tribes across the United States to be self-governed. Collier envisioned a program that would: (1) strengthen tribal governments and restore the relationship between the federal government and tribes, (2) stop the sale of allotments and restore tribal lands to communal holdings, (3) provide procedures and funds for tribal economic development, (4) grant preferential hiring of Indians in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and (5) recognize and aid tribes in maintaining and developing their cultures, especially their language, religion, and craft.

On November 17, 1934, more than 93 percent of the eligible voters of the Three Affiliated Tribes cast ballots and approved the Collier Plan by a margin of 477 to 139. With assistance from Indian Bureau personnel, the Three Tribes drew up a constitution and bylaws. These constitutions, and those of other tribes during this time, resembled uniform American political institutions, and bore no resemblance to traditional tribal governance structures.

The constitution for the Three Affiliated Tribes was adopted on May 15, 1936 by a vote of 366 to 220, and approved by the Secretary of the Interior on June 29, 1936. The corporate charter was ratified on April 24, 1937 which was later amended on November 28, 1961.

The new constitution provided for a tribal council to replace the old business committee that the Tribes had established in 1910. The old business committee, which consisted of equal representation from each tribe, did not function as a government, did not hold regular meetings, and was primarily advisory. The new council was composed of two members from Independence, Shell Creek and Nishu (formerly called Armstrong), and one member each from the communities of Santee (Lucky Mound), Ree (Beaver Creek), Elbowoods, and Little Missouri/Red Butte. The new council was essentially the same, except Independence, which had two representatives and Little Missouri and Red Butte were combined into one district.

Between 1934 and 1968, governance gradually shifted from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Three Affiliated Tribes. It was a period during which the tribes established a measure of autonomy. By 1961, the tribe had changed the constitution to elect the chairman at large. (“Robert Fox Wins Tribal Election,” Minot Daily News, September 30, 1960) This change in tribal constitution represented a shift in government by consensus.

When the Flood Control Act of 1944, proposed to flood much of the prime land of the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Tribal Business Council traveled to Washington, D.C. to protest the action. Contemporary leadership of the Three Tribes emerged both within the state and in national Indian Affairs. Many of the leaders of the Three Affiliated Tribes were among the group who formed the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). However, NCAI was a new organization and was unable to stop the Garrison Dam.

National Congress of American Plains Indians.
National Congress of American Plains Indians. (Photo courtesy
of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, B1010)

In 1968, Congress passed the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act, Public Law 93-638. This legislation allowed tribal entities to administer and manage programs and services previously administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services.

In 1982, through a tribal constitutional revision, the Three Affiliated Tribes reasserted the Tribal Business Council’s authority to exercise jurisdiction over the reservation and its people.

At present, changes in the tribal constitution (1982) reduced the tribal council to one representative from each of the six districts. The tribal chairperson is elected at large and six tribal council members are elected from vote of their respective political subdivisions or segments. Council members serve staggered terms. The council elects its own officers. Elections are held the third Tuesday in September in even numbered years, and the primary election is held the second Tuesday in November in even numbered years.

Modern Tribal Administration

The Three Affiliated Tribes, as a modern government, administers many programs. Revenues are generated primarily from various government programs and grants. The Three Affiliated Tribes, as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, contracts for the administration of many of its programs. A majority of the funds used within the administrative budget are tribal and federal trust funds.

Three Affiliated Tribes logo.

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