abstract of hidatsa origin story

Hidatsa Nation

The Hidatsa Indian tribe, woven into the rich fabric of history, was a group of remarkable people. Let the whispers of the past carry us back to the distant lands of North Dakota, where their roots intertwined with the rivers, the wind, and the sun.

In ancient times, there were no Hidatsas as we knew them today. Instead, tales of three distinct groups–Hidatsa Proper, Awatixa, and Awaxawi–echoed across the lands.

Each group held a unique place in the mysteries of the North Dakota prairie. They each spoke different dialects, made their lives in different villages, and yet, were connected through a shared heritage.

The Hidatsa Proper, known as the “People of the Willow,” roamed the land from the north, driven by powerful stories of their ancestors. They walked softly, listening to the whisper of the land, and settled by the abundant, mighty Knife River.

hidatsa woman

There they discovered the Mandan people, developing an alliance that would last for centuries. Their villages rose like willows by the river, strong and free.

We’ve learned that the Awatixa, the “Village of the Scattered Lodges,” came from the sky; it’s a creation myth as wondrous as the land itself. Their stories speak of Charred Body, the first leader, who led the people to the Missouri River.

There they spread out like lotus flowers across the water and its fertile banks. They thrived as hunters and gatherers, connected to every beating of the river’s heart.

And far away, the Awaxawi, the “Village on the Hill,” emerged from the depths of the earth, rising on vines and roots. They too came to the Kansas river, where legends of the river’s guardian, the Sun, were timeless guides. Their songs echoed across the land, joining in with the spirits of the land.

For countless generations, these three groups flourished, their stories intertwined like the rivers and the prairies. They traded goods, shared pipes, councils and knowledge.

They danced in ritual under the starry skies. United in their differences, they laughed, mourned, and worshipped together.

As the armies of invaders approached, the Hidatsas, Mandans, and Arikara held sway on the plains. Forsaking their well-structured societies, they attempted to welcome the newcomers with gifts of corn and tobacco. They shared ales made lovingly from wheat of the harvest, and showed the way to the river’s bounty and paths.

Time itself did not snatch their way of life; instead, merciless smallpox epidemics, one in 1782 and another in 1837, brought their numbers to whispers. Like a distant breeze, the Hidatsas finally consolidated, striving to preserve their heritage.

By 1845, they moved to a new land, higher up the Missouri River, and built one final village, Like-a-Fishhook. With time, their ancient tales shared the winds with spirits of lessened numbers.

And today, those whispers are gathered into a symphony of stories, each shared in museums, national parks, and along riverbanks. The Hidatsa, now part of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation, still spread along banks of the Missouri, retaining the traditions of the ancient willows by the river.