Tribal Protocols and Asking for Help


According to the traditions of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, the bestowing or giving of an Indian name is to be done in a sacred and holy manner by a tribal member who has the right to bestow an Indian name.  Among the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara people, the term "having the right" means this person has the appropriate cultural authority and responsibility to perform this cultural duty. It is very important for a custodian or foster family who is interested in getting an Indian/Spiritual name for the child in their care to contact the child’s family members or extended family, if possible.  If that is not feasible, contact the Tribe through Tribal Social Services.  Researching the child’s birth family would be helpful in finding a contact person to assist in this endeavor.   This contact person would know the Tribal affiliation (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, or other Tribes) and possible clanship relationships the child might have if the child is Hidatsa or Mandan. An elder of the child's birth family or a person with traditional Indian medicine would have the right to name the child during a small, private family ceremony which is usually held at home with family members and other special invited guests. It is not uncommon for a name giving ceremony to also occur at the camp site of the family during one of the summer tribal celebrations, i.e. a pow-wow.

Once the custodian, foster or adoptive parent identifies a contact person, they can learn the options and protocols for naming the child.  That contact person would identify the different possibilities one could pursue to get an Indian name.  Many families will research the blood line or ancestry of the child, and if a ancestor's name is considered as a possible name for the child, the elders from the extended family or descendents are consulted to get their approval to transfer the name to the eligible child.   An elder or person with medicine can also pray and get a name related to their medicine.

The family member who is requesting a name for a child, on the child's behalf, must be prepared to gift the person giving the name to the child.  The gift can be in the form of tobacco, food, a Pendleton blanket or a star quilt or a combination of all of these things.  A time and place must be scheduled and witnesses to the naming would be notified.  There are many ways to get an Indian name; it depends who your contact person is and who they are in contact with.  Sometimes, after the naming ceremony, a public announcement may be made at a tribal gathering to inform the community at large of the naming of the child or the name transfer.

Getting an Indian name is important for the child because it is necessary for the child if he/she is to cross over to the spirit world; the Indian name will introduce that person to the universe and all entities for life.

The custom when a Hidatsa passes away is for the family to call on a senior pallbearer picked from the father’s clan of the deceased person.  This senior pallbearer would be a clan father and/or clan aunt of the deceased.  The senior pallbearer is responsible for the cultural funeral rights of the deceased and to provide comfort and care to the family in this time of mourning.  It is the senior pallbearer who bears the responsibility to send the spirit of the deceased to the spirit world.  It is tradition for the Hidatsa family members to stay with the deceased for a period of four days prior to the burial ceremony and customary for family members to bring food and blankets to the wake and the funeral.  Family members have a give-away of material items and feed the people after the funeral.  Once the funeral is over, it is not proper to speak the name of the deceased or to unduly mourn too long afterwards. (The term "feed" is used in ND tribal communities to describe a potluck type of meal for attendees.)

The Arikara have a different way in burying their family members.  Arikara’s do not have clans, so the extended family assumes responsibility for helping and supporting the family in this time of need.  The extended family provides food, blankets, money, or whatever is needed for the immediate family.   The traditional ceremony for their relative to cross to the other side is conducted on the evening of the fourth day after their passing.  Part of the ceremony includes preparation of all the food the deceased person liked to eat.   The wake, funeral, and burial of the deceased is completed within four days.

In the past, traditional midwives would deliver babies and would pray and talk to the mother and baby to assure everyone was cared for.  Today, however, most people give birth in hospitals.

Traditional  ceremonies and community celebrations:
To learn of traditional ceremonies one must seek an elder relative who would guide or advise the person.  It is always important to gift the elder if appropriate.  There are many traditional ceremonies among the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.  Generally, a person must be invited to the ceremony. It is important to have someone who understands the ceremony and correct protocols to guide the newcomer/guest to assure appropriate conduct and behavior at the type of ceremony attended. Generally women or young females are expected to dress modestly and in some cases wear dresses or skirts at least below the knee. Women on their menses should not attend certain ceremonies.

Powwows (Indian celebrations) are social gatherings where all people may attend and learn about tribal relationships.  The contact person may assist the custodian to understand the activities and protocols for attending.

The Hidatsa began with thirteen clans, and seven clans still exist today.  Clans are powerful and highly respected entities.   The Hidatsa and Mandan family structure is a matriarchy utilizing the clans to define kinship, inclusion and acceptance.  Historically, the kinship and clan systems influenced every aspect of social, economic, and ceremonial life.  Membership in a clan is passed from the mother to the child.  This kinship system is extended to include a child’s maternal relatives.  Maternal kinship roles are brought closer to the child by this extension.  Some examples of the extension of kinship common among the Mandan and Hidatsa include the following:

A child also receives indirect membership in their father’s clan and is known as a “child” of that clan.

Hidatsa Clan System:
"In spite of the traditional late arrival of the Hidatsa-proper and the Awaxawi on the Missouri River, the clan names now employed are concerned with incidents or events occurring along the Missouri River and in no instance reflect incidents or events relating to their former residences to the east or northeast. The traditions and mythology indicate that two different clan systems were once in vogue: (1) the 13-clan system of the Awatixa; and (2) the 7-clan system of the Awaxawi and Hidatsa-proper" (Bowers, Hidatsa social, c1965)

Of the original 13 Awatixa clans, eight are known today and still existed in 1932 when Alfred Bowers did his research on the Fort Berthold Reservation.  The remaining five are thought to have been absorbed by the others.  

"One Hidatsa Indian group told their children about a hero known as Charred Body. He is thought to have led the original thirteen clans of the Hidatsa on a magical arrow that flew down from the world above to a site along today’s Turtle Creek not far from Mandan, North Dakota. Here Charred Body bested the local monsters so that his people could begin their existence as human beings"

Three Clan Members

Four Clan Members

A Hidatsa Mandan person’s role and responsibility to their tribe is based on their clan. All Hidatsa and Mandan people should know their clan and understand the clanship system.

Traditional stories guide a person when a child is ready to learn and teach them how to live respectably. We are all rooted to the mother earth and we are all children of God.


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