The remaking of Lake Sakakawea: Locating cultural viability in negative heritage on the Missouri River

by Wendi Field Murray

The creation of Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota during the 1950s resulted in significant grief and loss for the Fort Berthold Indian community and continues to figure prominently in the collective memory of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people. Drawing from ethnographic information pre- and postdating dam construction, we examine the lake's paradoxical identities in the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation worldview, as a repository of negative memory and as a locale of cultural knowledge, continuity, and meaning. The tribe's response to the construction of the lake illustrates how physical and psychological adjustments to irreparable loss can resituate negative heritage as culturally viable property.