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Three Affiliated Tribes Government - Traditional Government - Sahnish Traditional Governance

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Mandan Traditional Governance | Hidatsa Traditional Governance | Sahnish Traditional Governance

Sahnish Traditional Governance

Governance over the Sahnish people was vested in chiefs who guided them spiritually. They were chosen as leaders because the people believed they were the wisest, most unselfish and honorable men of the tribe.

During the early 1700s, twelve bands existed among the Sahnish, of which there were four main bands. Each had a chief and three sub-chiefs. The four main bands were the Huawirate (they came from the East), Tuhkatakux (Village Against a-Hill), Tuhkasthanu (Buffalo Sod Village) and Awahu (Left Behind). The head chief of the Awahu presided over the four main bands. When any chief died, the men of the tribe assembled at an honoring feast, at which the first chief of each band had the right to make a speech and nominate a candidate for the vacant position. No votes were cast, and the chief was chosen by consensus.

When a chief was selected, they gave a special shirt or robe to him that was worn to show his status as chief. Some duties of the chiefs were to extend hospitality to strangers, preserve peace within the tribe, order hunts, and decide tribal movements. Any needy person or stranger in the village would be welcome in the house of the chief. Hunters kept the chiefs’ lodge supplied with food.

According to Sahnish oral historians, it was also the role of the chief to decide when to leave an area and where the new villages were to be settled. Scouts rode out and found an appropriate place for the villages and with the chief’s approval, the move began. The Hukawirat (Eastern band) was the first and they all traveled in a row. When they reached the new area, they settled in the same order as they traveled: first the bands of the southwest area followed by the northwest area, the northeast area and the last three bands were the Awahu of the southeast area. (See charts of chiefs and bands in the leaders section.) They maintained this process during the 1800s to assure the transfer of the powers of the chief. That role changed drastically during the Like-A-Fishhook era.

Today the governance of the Sahnish is combined with the Mandan and Hidatsa. The change in government was a result of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish accepting the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, and the development of a constitution and by-laws patterned after the U. S. Government.

Currently, the role of the traditional chief of the Sahnish is as keeper of the Sahnish Awahu Village Pipe, and, by choice, he exerts little leadership. The Tribal Business Council carries out the leadership role, and the traditional chief works with the business council. However, the Tribal Business Council has little governance over traditions and ceremonies of the Sahnish.

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