Family tree ties two tribes

Doug Meigs, Today correspondent
12/26/08

NEW TOWN, N.D. - Back at Crow Agency in Montana, Francine Morrison’s father always wanted to visit his Hidatsa relatives living in North Dakota. However, he never could make the long trip to Fort Berthold Reservation before his death in 1997.

In 2008, Morrison finally made the trip that her father always wanted to make.

“Today, it’s like a dream that’s finally coming true, now I know this side of the family, and we’re all starting to know each other again,” she said.

The Crow broke away from the Hidatsa around 1650, long before the La Vérendrye brothers made Europe’s first documented contact with the Crow in 1743. Throughout those 20-some generations, different Crow and Hidatsa maintained familial contact across the rugged landscape.

This past September, at a modern reconstructed earth lodge village, Morrison, 52, met with her Hidatsa family on Fort Berthold near New Town, N.D. She and roughly 25 Crow joined more than 50 Hidatsa descended from She Kills (who traveled back and forth between the Hidatsa and Crow at the close of the 19th century and died on Fort Berthold around 1920).

In October, a group of Hidatsa traveled to Crow Agency for more She Kills’ family tree research; in November, Morrison returned to Fort Berthold for another family gathering in Mandaree, N.D.

“When I was growing up, these older ladies would always come to Crow Fair,” Morrison said. “They always came to our camp. They would say they were Hidatsa and they were related to us. Over the years, I always wanted to meet them (in North Dakota).”

The older ladies were Florence Bluestone Deane and Eloise Mandan Johnson. Eloise is the older sister of 79-year-old Rosemarie Mandan.

Roughly five years ago, Mandan was passing through Crow Agency. She stopped at a trading post where she struck up a conversation with Morrison.

At the time, neither woman knew they shared a family connection. When Morrison mentioned her name, Mandan remembered another Morrison (from Crow) who used to visit her family – Tommy Morrison – Francine Morrison’s uncle.

Morrison shared some old photos of She Kills’ sisters, and they developed a correspondence.

At the time, Mandan was immersing herself in family tree research. She began tracing the genealogical branches over to her Crow relatives.

Family members became interested in the records growing on rolls of paper. Mandan passed her information on to granddaughter Connie White Bear, who digitized the information.

White Bear, 46, is Chief Education Administrator of the Three Affiliated Tribes. She is working on a cultural curriculum for the tribe, which relates indirectly to her family tree hobby.

“”We’re going and looking at all the Mandan and Hidatsa literature, and we’re putting it into that curriculum,” she said. “And some of the (Hidatsa and Crow) stories are very similar.”

The Crow and Hidatsa’s migration stories are part of the curriculum.

The Hidatsa settled alongside the Mandan. The Crow continued moving west.

Long after the Crow separated, small pox ravaged the Hidatsa in 1781 and 1837. Many ceremonies and societies disappeared as entire Hidatsa families died during the epidemics. As a result, White Bear said that the disconnected Crow preserved elements of Hidatsa culture. For example, the Tobacco Society among the Crow was also present among the Hidatsa before smallpox.

Lucy Rosario-Karnatz, Hidatsa, and her white husband, Dennis Karnatz catalogued photos and family information at the Nov. 15 meeting at the Mandaree Community Center

Dennis Karnatz had assembled his family history in a book featuring records dating back to 12th century England. He said that tracing Native genealogies is much more complicated because of oral tradition rather than physical documentation

“You just go back so far, and that’s as far as you can go,” he said.

Rosario-Karnatz, 51, (White Bear’s aunt) remembered joining her grandmother for summer trips to Crow Agency.

Today, the meetings between Crow and Hidatsa descendents of She Kills aim to maintain personal relationships through future generations of family members.

“The elders in our family are up there in the years, and it’s up to us now to take the reigns and say, okay, we have to get involved,” Rosario-Karnatz said.

Carolyn Morrison shares the sentiment. The 30-year-old woman traveled from Bismarck, N.D., where she’s studying criminal justice at United Tribes Technical College. She joined her aunt, Francine Morrison, for the Crow-Hidatsa family tree gathering in Mandaree.

Her two boys scampered about the community center’s gymnasium as the family shared jokes and genealogy.

Morrison knew about the Crow/Hidatsa relationship since she was a little girl growing up on Crow Agency Reservation.

“I’m working really hard right now to learn as much as I can about the Crow history so I can teach that to my kids. I want my kids to have the same opportunities that I had growing up in Crow culture and knowing the Crow way of life.”

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