History and culture

WHITE SHIELD A 136-year-old white buckskin dress found by soldiers at the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana is among items displayed in the White Shield Cultural Center in White Shield.

Yvonne Howard Fox, of White Shield, told those attending the grand opening of the Arikara Cultural Center on Tuesday about the history of the 136-year-old dress that her family has loaned to the facility.

The dress was given to her grandmother Anna Dawson Wilde. The white buckskin dress is at least 136 years old; it was found by soldiers at the Little Big Horn and given to some of the Arikara scouts who in turn turned it over to Wilde’s family. Anna Dawson Wilde was one of the first Indian children sent to Hampton Institute in Hampton, Va. She was educated and returned home to teach. She said the dress was handed to her by “Grandma Wilde,” related Glenda Baker Embry, public information officer for the Three Affiliated Tribes who attended the event. Embry also is related to Wilde.

The White Shield community celebrated the grand opening of the cultural center prior to the annual Corn Festival held that evening in the community center.

Designed by architect Denby Deegan of White Shield, the cultural center was built several years ago and resembles an earth lodge. Its interior was completed recently.

Austin Gillette, former White Shield representative to the tribal business council; Fred Fox, current White Shield council representative; Dancing Eagle Perkins, cultural center director; and Deegan spoke to the crowd about the venture, as well as various community members.

Duane Fox, of White Shield, among the community members who spoke, told the group that the Old Scout Society, a cultural society, was reorganized in the 1970s.

Douglas Parks, a professor of anthropology and associate director of the American Indian Studies Research Institute at Bloomington, Ind., and others from the institute, also attended the event. Parks studies the Arikara language.

White Shield in the east segment of the Fort Berthold Reservation is home to the Arikara or Sahnish people. The cultural center tells their history and culture.

Inside, the center includes three offices, a kitchen, a meeting room, a display room and a historical resource room.

Kuunux Teerit Kroupa, historical language planner for the cultural center, said the historical resource room is a place where community and noncommunity people can research information about the Arikara. He said they also hope to work closely with the White Shield School and students can use the center for their research.

Glass cases in the facility display replications and originals of Arikara culture and history artifacts including clothing and other items.

“The majority are contributions by Arikara community members,” Kroupa said. He said the items were given to families or it is clothing that belonged to family members.

There’s also work of contemporary artists using earlier day cultural photographs.

One of the early-day photos displayed in the cultural center is of Bear’s Belly or ku’nuh kana’nu, a scout with Custer, who was born in 1847 at Fort Clark. According to information provided by Embry, his first war experience was at the age of 19. He enlisted at Fort Abraham Lincoln with Custer’s 7th Cavalry and was deployed to Black Hills country. During this campaign the group ran into a small camp of Sioux where he was able to count two coups. When he returned home Bear’s Belly fasted and cut skin offerings to a buffalo skull altar on the outskirts of the village. In the same year, Bear’s Belly

married and later became a member of the Bear’s medicine fraternity.

Kroupa said the cultural center is in the development phase now. He said it will be an ongoing project with community involvement.

The facility is financed by the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Kroupa said they are in process of developing a website (www.ArikaraCulturalCenter.com) to be available in about two weeks. He said people can visit the website to find out about upcoming events.

Although the dates haven’t been set yet, he said plans are to hold historical and cultural events throughout the year, including a language workshop for community and noncommunity members, a historical research event for the community, and academic symposiums.

A language application with brief historical overviews of the Arikara is free and available for iPhones, iPods and iPads.

The cultural center currently has four employees: Dancing Eagle Perkins, director; Whirlwind Bull, program coordinator; Good Earth Woman, office assistant; and Kuunux Teerit Kroupa, historian/language planner.

The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. People can call 743-4013 for more information about the facility.

“It is free of charge and people are welcome anytime. Tours are provided,” Kroupa said. He said while there, people also can visit a traditional earth lodge that was constructed at the site last year.