The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations, is now the source of more than half of all the oil produced on Indian Reservations in the United States. The reservation, situated in the Northwest Region of the State of North Dakota, is located within the Bakken Oil Play – the largest find of technologically recoverable oil minerals in recent history within the United States.
The Reservation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, was created in 1870, and is a small part of the lands originally reserved to the tribes by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.
The reservation was named after a United States Army fort, Fort Berthold, located on the northern bank of the Missouri River.
The creation of the Garrison Dam and Lake Sakakawea destroyed much of the Three Affiliated Tribes’ economy, previously based on farming and ranching in the fertile river bottom.
Located on the Missouri River, the reservation consists of 988,000 acres of which 457,837 acres (1,853 km) are owned by Native Americans, either as individual allotments or communally by the tribe. The McLean National Wildlife Refuge lies within its boundaries.
Land allotments were assigned in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by the U.S. government. On Indian trust land, which includes collectively held “tribal land” and individually owned “allottee land,” oil companies had to go through four federal agencies and 49 steps to acquire a permit to drill; off trust land, they dealt with only four steps.
Furthermore, a company needed the consent of every person who owned a share of a parcel’s minerals. Indian land is fractionated by inheritance — one parcel may have scores of owners — and convincing all to agree was maddening, if not impossible.
The tribally owned Missouri River Resources oil company recently hosted an Economic Sovereignty Summit to examine the opportunities and problems oil development has brought. The main issue is how to capitalize on this oil boom windfall for the long term benefit of the generations yet to be born.
“It’s about achieving Economic Sovereignty through Energy Development,” said Tribal Councilman Ken Hall, who is also Chairman of the Board of Missouri River Resources, LLC. which hosted the event.
The event assembled experts from different reservations that have potential energy development or have already laid out the footsteps for other tribes. The conference was a place to dialogue, exchange ideas, create strategy, develop and strengthen partnerships for their tribes benefit. Representatives attending were from the Crow, Southern Ute, Standing Rock, Fort Peck, Winnebago Tribes and tribes from Canada.