Skip to main content

North Dakota Rough Rider Award Critic Questions Sakakawea Eligibility

I read with great surprise that North Dakota resident Sakakawea, who traveled as a guide on the great Lewis and Clark expedition that laid the geographical history of the landscape of early America and helped to locate many of the American Indian tribes, their lands of origin and their cultural uniqueness, was being questioned as eligible to receive the prestigious Rough Rider Award by at least one historical critic.

Clay Jenkinson, director of the Dakota Institute of the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, in the Forum article said “I think the Rough Rider Award should go to living people who are contributing to our understanding of North Dakota.”

The irony of anyone suggesting that Sakakawea does not “qualify” for the award because she is not living today and because she is not an original North Dakotan is ridiculous for a number of reasons.

First of all, Sakakawea was adopted into the Hidatsa community when she was allegedly kidnapped and adapted to living among the Hidatsas. The irony, of course, is that the United States, supported by a North Dakota Chapter recognizing the Ft. Berthold Reservation and the Ft. Berthold Tribe (now the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation), placed these three distinct tribes with distinct cultural differences under one geographical roof because they lived peacefully with each other (separately) in the untamed wilds of the Midwest.

Sakakawea is unquestionably North Dakotan. If Theodore Roosevelt were still President, in fact, Mr. Jenkinson, he would waive his stick at you and say “Bully for you Sakakawea, ignore this man!” I would have to agree.

I am also from North Dakota, tribal member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. I am Metis and my people are originally from Northern Manitoba. North Dakota gave us repose when our way of life was threatened in Northern Canada. My people have deep roots and relatives here and I, among thousands, was born here. I am North Dakota, Sakakawea is North Dakota and we are proud of her.

We do not question society’s choice to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger, born in Austria, to be Governor of California. We do not question (unless you are Donald Trump) the ability for the American people to vote for the first black U.S. President whose father was born in Kenya Africa do we? Last time I checked, American Indians are now allowed to vote, albeit it not that long ago.

We voted as North Dakotans for Sakakawea to stand as holding the spirit of North Dakota. The discovery of most of North America, a land already occupied by the Indigenous people, is nothing to sneeze at – so please do not thumb your noses at our choice of North Dakota’s Rough Rider Awardee, Sakakawea, a symbol of strength, wisdom and a darn good tour guide.

Monique Vondall-Rieke is a tribal attorney in North and South Dakota and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.