A North Star Dakotan Interview with Edward Goodbird
Life on Fort Berthold Reservation
Goodbird is a Hidatsa who lives on the Fort Berthold Reservation. He was born about 1870 and is thirty-five years old. He recalls for us his early years on the reservation and looks to the future.
You attended a missionary school that the Congregationalists ran. Would you tell us about that?
We used to sing a good deal in the school. One song I liked was “I need Thee every hour.” I loved to sing, although the songs we learned were very different from our Indian songs. I found English a rather hard language to learn. Many of the older Indians would laugh at any who tried to learn to read. “You want to forsake your Indian ways and be white men,” they would say; but there were many in the village who wanted their children to learn English. My grandfather was deeply interested in my studies. “It is their books that make white men strong,” he would say. “The buffaloes will soon be killed; and we Indians must learn white ways, or starve.”
What about Christian religion?
My father thought the missionary’s religion was good but would not himself forsake the old ways. “The old gods are best for me,” he used to say, but he let me go to hear Mr. Hall preach. I cannot say that I always understood the sermon. Sometimes Mr. Hall would say, “Thirty years ago, my friends, I saw the light.” I thought he meant he had seen a vision. But I learned a good deal from Mr. Hall’s preaching; and my lessons and the songs I learned at school made me think of Jesus; but I thought an Indian could be a Christian and also believe in the old ways.
How have things changed since your childhood days?
Time has brought many changes to our reservation. Antelope and blacktailed deer had gone the way of the buffalo. A few earth lodges yet stood, dwellings of stern old warriors who lived in the past; but the Indian police saw that every child was in school learning the white man’s way. A good dinner at the noon hour made most of the children rather willing scholars. The white man’s peace had stopped our wars with the Sioux, and the young folks of either tribe visited and made presents to one another. I had visited the Standing Rock Sioux and had learned to rather like them. Indeed, I liked one Sioux girl so well that I married her.
What do you see for the future?
We Hidatsas know that our Indian ways will soon perish, but we feel no anger. The government has given us a good reservation, and we think the new way better for our children. I think God made all peoples to help one another. We Indians have helped you white people. All over this country are corn fields; we Indians gave you the seeds for your corn, and we gave you squashes and beans. On the lakes in your parks are canoes; Indians taught you to make these canoes. We Indians think you are paying us back, when you give us schools and books and teach us the new say. For myself, my family and I own four thousand acres of land; and we have money coming to us from the government. I own cattle and horses. I can read English, and my children are in school.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council