February 22, 2010

Fort Peck Indian Reservation


Logo of Ft Peck Indian ReservationThe Fort Peck Reservation, headquartered in Poplar, is the second largest reservation in Montana, covering over two million acres of land.

Fort Peck Reservation is home to two separate Indian nations, the Assiniboine, and Dakota Sioux, each composed of numerous bands. There are an estimated 11,786 enrolled tribal members, of whom approximately 6,000 reside on or near the reservation.

The Assiniboine refer to themselves as “Nakona” and the Sioux call themselves “Dakota.”

The Sioux divisions of Sisseton/Wahpetons, the Yantonais, and the Teton Hunkpapa are all represented. The Assiniboine bands of Canoe Paddler and Red Button are represented and practice their culture and religion.

Bison herd on Fort Peck Reservation 

The Sioux Tribes include the bands of Yankton, Yanktonias, Hunkpapa, Cutheads, and Oglalas (who later joined the Tribe).The government identified all the Tribes with similar languages as the Sioux people.

The oral tradition of the Sioux people state that the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota people were one nation. The Lakota people broke away and formed their own nations.


The United States Government as defined by the United States Constitution has governmental relationships with International, Tribal, and State entities. The Tribal nations have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation signed treaties in the 1800’s with the United States which are the legal documents that established reservation boundaries and recognized tribal rights as a sovereign governments.

The Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board consists of a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman, a Secretary/Accountant, a Sergeant-at-Arms, and twelve (12) Board Members. All members of the governing body, except the secretary-accountant are elected at-large every two years.

The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribe lands were originally reduced to a reservation with defined boundaries by the Executive Order of 1888. The Tribal governments maintain jurisdiction within the boundaries of the reservation including all rights-of-way, waterways, watercourses and streams running through any part of the reservation and to such others lands as may hereafter be added to the reservation under the laws of the United States. The Tribal government operates under a constitution approved by the Tribal membership and Tribal Council of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. The Tribal Council consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary/Accountant, and a Sgt. At Arms. The Tribal Council Chairman is the administrative head of the Tribe and serves a two-year term The twelve member Tribal Council and officers are elected at large and serve a two year term.

Tribal/Agency Headquarters: Popular, Montana
Counties: Valley, Roosevelt, Sheridan and Daniels
Population of enrolled members: 10,000
Reservation Population: 6,000
Language: Assiniboine, Sioux, and English
Land Status Acres
Total Area 2,174,000 acres
Tribal Owned 395,893 acres
Allotted Owned 509,602 acres
Total Tribal/Allotted Owned 905,495 acres
Non-Indian Owned 1,268,505 acres


The Great Sioux Nation is also called The Lakota/Dakota/Nakoda Nation. The people of the Sioux Nation refer to themselves as Lakota or Dakota which means friend or ally. The United States government took the word Sioux from (Nadowesioux), which comes from a Chippewa (Ojibway) word which means little snake or enemy. The French traders and trappers who worked with the Chippewa ( Ojibway) people shortened the word to Sioux.

The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribe includes descendants of seven bands. Fort Peck Reservation is home to two separate Indian nations, each composed of numerous bands and divisions. The Sioux divisions of Sisseton/Wahpetons, the Yantonais, and the Teton Hunkpapa are all represented.

The Assiniboine bands of Canoe Paddler and Red Button are represented and practice their culture and religion. The Sioux Tribes include the bands of Yankton, Yanktonias, Hunkpapa, Cutheads, and Oglalas (who later joined the Tribe).The government identified all the Tribes with similar languages as the Sioux people. The oral tradition of the Sioux people state that the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota people were one nation.

The Lakota people broke away and formed their own nations. The Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people still practice their sacred and traditional ceremonies which encompass the seven rites of Nation brought by the White Buffalo Calf Woman.

Fort Peck Tribes adopted their first written constitution in 1927. The Tribes voted to reject a new constitution under the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. The original constitution was amended in 1952, and completely rewritten and adopted in 1960. The present constitution remains one of the few modern tribal constitutions that still includes provisions of general councils, the traditional type of government.

Social activities such as powwow, rodeos, and races are celebrated in the summer months. Special powwows held for individuals who accomplished a certain stage in their lives such as graduation or acceptance in the arm forces with traditional honoring ceremonies, give aways, and feasts to celebrate the accomplishments. The oral tradition is still passed down from the elders to the youth.

The future of our people is in the hands of our children. We believe the children of the Great Sioux Nation will bring us into the 21st century with pride.


Prior to the entry of the non-Indians into the present day Fort Peck Reservation area, the region had been occupied by several bands of Assiniboine Indians, and had generally been thought of by non-Indians as a very wild and unsettled area.

The Assiniboines were in the larger region as early as the late 1600’s. Western bands were visited by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) explorer Henry Kelsey in the Saskatchewan River County in the 1690’s, and already their seasonal round included forays as far south as the Missouri River. The area of the White Earth River, Poplar, and Milk River provided important wintering grounds, always rich enough in buffalo and other game animals to make the winter prosperous, without threats of starvation.

The Assiniboine were veteran middlemen in the fur trades. The French-Canadian explorer, La Verendreye, accompanied a regular annual trade expedition by eastern Assiniboines to the Mandan Villages in 1731. As the Assiniboine gradually moved more and more of their population onto the prairies out of the woodlands, they continued to ally themselves with Crees, Chippewas, and Monsoni against the Sioux, Arikaras, Cheyennes, Blackfeet and Gros Ventres.

The Assiniboines had previously been tied to the HBC trade, but gradually accepted the French peddlers from Quebec, who eventually became the Northwest Company, especially when HBC displaced Assiniboines as the canoemen for the journeys down to the Bay. The HBC also moved to set up inland posts in response to the competition, and the Assiniboine became adept at playing one company against the other.

As early as the 1770’s independent traders, some out of Spanish St. Louis, began operating in the Mandan Village, the major intertribal trade center on the northern plains since long before the 1730’s. The Assiniboines were pragmatists, who saw these villages where the trade fairs operated as a resource to be exploited.

The Assiniboines sometimes attacked the merchants, the Mandan themselves, and their clients (other northern plains tribes); at other times, they suspended the warfare with pipes in order to trade themselves. The competition for access to the villages and the overall flow of goods became the focus of Assiniboines attention crucial to their own position in the region. Thereby the Assiniboines attempted to control the lands between the HBC and NWC posts on the Assiniboine River and the Mandan Villages, predominantly the Souris River Valley.

This presence was successful, but smallpox in 1780/81 and again in 1800/03 began to undermine physically the hold the Assinboines were able to maintain. By the 1790’s, Assiniboines already realized that their western wintering grounds were to be the next regions into which the European trade would expand.

The Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-04) provided information that was of primary use to St. Louis trading companies, traders whose eyes turned westward. Initial attempts to extend trade to the Blackfeet failed mostly because of hatred engendered among the Blackfeet by the Lewis and Clark expedition which killed several Blackfeet. Extending forts above Fort Clark in the Mandan Villages, especially to the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone, became a goal which took almost 15 years to accomplish.

In 1826, an agent for the upper Missouri River Peter Wilson signed many of the first treaties with upper Missouri groups, one of which was the Assiniboines, who had come in to trade at the Mandan Villages. One year later, James Kipp built a post at the mouth of the White Earth River to trade specifically with Assiniboines. The next year the newly formed American Fur Company began building Fort Union at the confluence of the two great rivers, also to trade with the Assiniboine.

Fort Union became the major institution serving the Assiniboines for the next four decades. Assiniboine bands became fur and hide producers and roamed the regions between the Saskatchewan River to the north, Missouri River branch lands to the south, the Cypress Hills and Milk River to the west, and the White Earth River to the east.

There was little or no non-Indian presence in the region other than what coalesced around fur trade posts. The coming of steamboats, railroad surveys, and eventual gold discoveries initiated migration of non-Indians. In 1851, representatives of Assiniboines and some bands of Sioux gathered at Fort Laramie Treaty Council and boundaries for lands were delineated between the Tribes present and chiefs were named.

The present day lands of the Fort Peck Reservation were included in the Assiniboine lands as outlined in the Fort Laramie Treaty. Four years later the government railroad survey expedition of the Washington Territorial Governor, Isaac Stevens, met at Fort Benton and designated the entire tier of present day northern Montana the “Blackfeet Hunting Ground,” for the Blackfeet and other Indians. Gros Ventres were present, but Assiniboines were not. These overlapping designated jurisdictions between the treaties remained unresolved for many years.

Throughout the 1850’s Indian agents to the upper Missouri operated out of Fort Union. In August 1857, Assiniboines helped defend Fort Union against attack by a war party composed of various Teton Sioux. At this time, various camping bands of Sioux also began entering the region (predominantly Hunkpapa, Minniconjou, Black Kettle and Sans Arc), but most only remained seasonally. By 1860, the Sioux lingered more and more as game became depleted in the Dakotas.

In 1862, the “Great Sioux Uprising” in Minnesota resulted in the flight of eastern Sioux refugees from the fighting and possible retaliation. As assortment of Sisseton and Wahpeton under the Sisseton headman, Standing Buffalo, traveled into Manitoba then southwest into the area of the Missouri-Yellowstone confluence by 1864/65. Several Assiniboine bands agreed to take in the refugees acting as middlemen with the agent and traders, and some intermarriage sealed a bond between groups.

U.S. Peace Commissioners to the Northern Plains visited the Sioux as well as the Assiniboine. On the steamboat Ben Johnson in July 1866, in the vicinity of Fort Union, representatives came in to meet the Commissioners. From the Assiniboine, the government representatives sought permission for a military post to protect river traffic, but from the Sioux in the region, promises not to harass new Indians in the region. Even before the negotiations were settled, the army began erecting Fort Buford.

Warfare between Teton Sioux bands and the U.S. evolved into the Great Sioux War, fought mostly in the Powder River country to the south of the Yellowstone. The Bozeman trail forts were removed as a stipulation of the second Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The Sioux victory in this conflict delineated the boundary of the Great Sioux Reservation, established agencies, and guaranteed annuities to all Teton and Yanktons.

The Sioux bands within the lands of the Milk River Agency, however, had expanded their hunting grounds north and west as a part of the military assertiveness that accompanied the Great Sioux War. As a result, none of these peripheral groups wanted to go to agencies in the southeast for their (in Dakota Territory) annuities. They wanted rations in the region in which they had come to reside, and could not see what the difficulty of this was.

During the Great Sioux War (1866-1868), the numbers of Yanktonai-Yankton and Teton in the Red Water and Powder River country south of the Missouri increased.

In 1868, agencies were established for Blackfeet on the Teton River and all others in the east part of the Blackfeet Hunting Ground were placed under the jurisdiction of Milk River Agency. During this same time Yanktonai Sioux regularly came to Fort Buford asking for annuities. The distributions grew problematic, however, as more and more different groups of Sioux were referred to Milk River Agency and tried to edge themselves into a position to receive rations.

This is the period in which Assiniboines attempted to broker access for Sioux willing to meet their conditions. At this same time, some Assiniboines returned the Flat Pipe to the Gros Ventres which they had captured in war, and the alliance which resulted bound Upper Assiniboines to their former enemies. One report indicated that Assiniboines gave women at the time the alliance was formed access to the horses of the Gros Ventres kinsmen, the Arapaho.

This is the same time in which Swing Thigh’s Yanktonais and more of the Sisseton Wahpeton became intermarried with several Assiniboine bands. These alliances represented the results of so many different Indians being within a single agency’s jurisdiction, each competing for attention and favor. By the Spring of 1871, 500 lodges of Sioux were competing with the other resident Assiniboines, Gros Ventres, and River Crow already under the jurisdiction of Milk River Agency.

Badgered by the Yanktonai into warfare with Upper Assiniboine bands, Standing Buffalo was killed in 1871; a portion of his followers migrated on into Canada, while some stayed among the Assiniboine. Since most of the Sioux would not leave, the annuities available were not enough to go around. The Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Montana requested that a delegation of Sioux be sent to Washington for the purpose of effecting their removal from the Agency’s jurisdiction. In June of 1872, Agent Simmons took his Sioux delegation down the Missouri and off to Washington.

Before departing, Simmons was able to initiate the move of part of his charges to a new agency at Fort Peck, with others sent to a sub-agency at Fort Belknap, abandoning Fort Browning, which had been the location of the Milk River Agency (outside present day Chinook, Montana). a total of 8,412 individuals were relocated to the vicinity of Fort Peck Agency, and 5,089 to Fort Belknap.

The new Fort Peck Indian Agency consequently was established in 1871 to serve the Assiniboine and Sioux Indians. The Agency was located within the old stockade of Fort Peck, purchased from traders Durfee and Peck. The fate of the Indian people within the Agency with little ability to protect its charges, however, was evidenced in the atrocities by non-Indians against Indians.

In the Cypress Hills in 1873 forty lodges of Assiniboine were massacred by wold and hide hunters. Although the action was condemned, the massacre’s perpetrators were never tried. This created an atmosphere in which Indians, other than in occasional war parties set against their traditional Indian enemies, kept close to their agencies. In 1878, the Fort Peck Agency was relocated to its present day location in Poplar because the original agency was located on a flood plain, suffering floods each spring.

Attempts by the U.S. Government to take the Black Hills and bind the Sioux to agencies along the Missouri in the 1820’s resulted in warfare, reopening the issues that had been central to the Great Sioux War (1866-68).

As part of the Sioux agreed to come into the agencies, part chose to resist. Army efforts to bring in the other Sioux (characterized as “hostiles”) led to battles in the Rosebud country, and culminated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. As the victors dispersed, Sitting Bull led followers north into the Red Water country, where contact with the Sioux of Fort Peck Agency kept the Hunkpapas and assorted Tetons supplied.

When military pressure increased, Sitting Bull led most of his followers into Canada in 1877. The military presence increased in an effort to induce Sitting Bull to surrender. Camp Poplar (located at Fort Peck Agency) was established in 1880.

Finally, without supplies and barely tolerated by Indians in the area of present day southern Saskatchewan, Sitting Bull came in to surrender at Fort Buford on July 19, 1881. Some of his Hunkpapas stragglers intermarried with others at Fort Peck and resided in the Chelsea community.

The early 1880’s brought many changes and much suffering. By 1881, all the buffalo were gone from the region. By 1883/84, over 300 Assiniboines died of starvation at the Wolf Point sub-agency when medical attention and food were in short supply.

Rations were not sufficient for needs, and suffering reservation-wide was exasperated by particularly severe winters. The early reservation traumas were complicated by frequent changes in agents, few improvements in services, and a difficult existence for the agency’s Tribes. Negotiations the winter of 1886-87 and ratified in the Act of May 1, 1888, established modern boundaries.

Also in 1887, Congress passed the Dawes Act, which provided the general legislation for dividing the hitherto tribally-owned Indian reservations into parcels of land to be given to individuals. During the turn of the century, as the non-Indian proceeded to inhabit the boundary areas of the Reservation, the prime grazing and farmland areas situated within the Reservation drew their attention. As more and more homesteaders moved into the surrounding area, pressure was placed on Congress to open up the Fort Peck Reservation to homesteading.

Finally, the Congressional Act of May 30, 1908, commonly known as the Fort Peck Allotment Act, was passed. The Act called for the survey and allotment of lands now embraced by the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and the sale and dispersal of all the surplus lands after allotment. Each eligible Indian was to receive 320 acres of grazing land in addition to some timber and irrigable land.

Parcels of land were also withheld for Agency, school and church use. Also, land was reserved for use by the Great Northern (Burlington Northern) Railroad. All lands not allotted or reserved were declared surplus and were ready to be disposed of under the general provisions of the homestead, desert land, mineral and townsite laws. In 1913, approximately 1,348,408 acres of unallotted or tribal unreserved lands were available for settlement by the non-Indian homesteaders.

Although provisions were made to sell the remaining land not disposed of in the first five years, it was never completed. Several additional allotments were made before the 1930’s.

Educational history on the Reservation includes a government boarding school program which was begun in 1877 and finally discontinued in the 1920’s. Missionary schools were run periodically by the Mormons and Presbyterians in the first decades of the 20th century, but with minimal success.

The Fort Peck Reservation is served by five public school districts, which are responsible for elementary and secondary education. In addition, two independent post-secondary institutions are located on the Reservation: Fort Peck Community College, which offers courses of study leading to an Associate of Arts/Science degree in General Studies, and NAES College, which offers a Bachelor’s degree in Community Studies.


The average rainfall is 16 to 17 inches during the summer season. The growing season lasts three months, June to August. The snow fall averages from moderate too heavy for winter weather. The temperature in the winter is from 30 degrees below zero to 25 degrees above zero. The average temperature in the summer is 80 degrees but will range from 69 degrees to 110 degrees from June to August. The wind averages 14 mph per day annually. The area suffers from occasional droughts in the summer and severe blizzards in the winter. The spring and fall times are very pleasant.


The Fort Peck Reservation includes Highway 2 east and west along the entire southern boundary to a junction in the middle of the reservation with Highway 13 which runs north to south the by entire length of the reservation. Other transportation arteries include Highways 438, 250, 251, 344 and 350 running north and south and BIA connecting roads in the interior of the Reservation. The nearest bus service is located in Glendive, Montana. The nearest commercial airline is in Wolf Point, Montana.


The tribe supplies the majority of the employment, which provides work to 400 employees in government.

The major economic occupation on the Fort Peck Reservation is cattle ranching and farming for a number of Tribal operators. Commercial business by private operators include a convenience store, gas stations, restaurants, laundromat, auto repair shop, a video arcade/fast food shop, and arts and handcrafts, and other service and commercial vendors. The majority of employment is provided by the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Fort Peck Community College, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Indian Health Service.

Since the 1950s the Fort Peck Tribes have undertaken extensive industrial and mineral development. The tribally owned Assiniboine and Sioux Tribal Industries (ASTI) is the largest private employer in Montana. Fort Peck was the first of the United States Tribes to develop jointly and wholly-owned oil wells.

Education is a high priority for the Fort Peck Tribes with a tribally-operated Headstart program, a tribal scholarship program and Fort Peck Community College and NAES (Native American Education Service) College. FPCC offers course work in areas leading to an Associate of Arts and Technical degrees, while NAES College offers one of the best tribal studies programs in the United States, leading to a baccalaureate degree.


The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribe sponsors seven annual pow wows, culminating with Poplar Indian Days on Labor Day weekend. In addition to the dancing competition, the summer event also includes a rodeo. During the year other sports activities such as softball, volleyball, and basketball tournaments are also held during the year.

Fort Peck Reservation’s annual celebrations include Red Bottom Celebration in June, Badlands Celebration in June, Fort Kipp Celebration in July, Wadopana Celebration in August and Poplar Indian Days in September.


The Nemont Telephone Company provides telephone service to the reservation. Electric utility services for the Fort Peck Reservation are provided by Montana Dakota Utilities, Sheridan Electric, Northern Electric, Valley Electric, and McCone Electric. The Tribe has contracted power from the Western Area Power Administration for irrigation purposes since the 1930’s.


The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes provide an elderly nutrition program and youth cultural/recreational activities. There is also an area rodeo club. Health care is provided by the Indian Health Service at the Health Center Hospital and Clinic. The Tribal Health Department provides a number of health services including the Community Health Representative Program, mental health and dental services. The Health Department also provides examinations and eyeglasses to all residents at reduced rates. The Ambulance Service provides emergency health care service.


The Fort Peck Housing Authority manages over 500 housing units in the district communities and on rural scattered sites through HUD Low Rent and Mutual Help home ownership housing programs. Other housing is available through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service for their employees. Private housing stock is limited.


The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes desire to continue their progress in providing for our people and the development of increased self-sufficiency. There are plans to develop natural and cultural resources to preserve, educate, our people and non-Indian people and also to strengthen the economy on the reservation. The Nation will continue to search for ways to maintain our culture and develop new economic opportunities, such as tourism for our future generations.

Reservation Water System: Water is the key to increasing the quality of life and promoting full economic development on the Fort Peck Reservation. An adequate supply of good quality water is needed by the Indians living on the reservation.

Problems with water quality and inadequate supply are common throughout the reservation. This condition has a detrimental effect on health and quality of life as well as deterring economic growth. The availability of a plentiful and high quality water supply is vital to the health and well being of the people living on the Fort Peck Reservation.

The level health and quality of life of the general population is directly related to the quality of their domestic water supply. Many residents currently depend on poorly constructed or low capacity individual wells. These sources are often contaminated with bacteria or undesirable minerals, provide an inadequate quantity of water, and are costly to maintain and operate. Many people wish to return to their family lands or relocate to rural areas to raise their families but are limited by the unavailability of water.

Agriculture is the primary industry on the Fort Peck Reservation and the key to the full development of this industry is water. Surface water in small streams, lakes, and dugouts is scattered throughout the area. Surface water, however, is a unreliable year-round supply and generally available only during the wet periods of spring. During drought periods, these sources often dry up, and livestock must be sold or moved off the reservation.

Shallow groundwater is scarce and unreliable and deep groundwater, while generally more plentiful, is highly mineralized and of poor quality. This lack of an adequate water supply has also reduced the livestock production on the reservation. The grazing lands cannot be fully utilized and valuable resource is wasted. The lack of stability in the production of feeder-cattle also discourages related industrial development such as cattle feeding, packing plants, and other value added industries.

Hydrologic Setting: Shallow groundwater is available on most of the Reservation; however, where it is found, it is often of poor quality. Surface waters, though valuable and widely distributed resources, are undependable because of scanty and erratic precipitation. Artesian water from deeply buried bedrock aquifers underlies all of the reservation. These aquifers are not, and probably will not become highly developed sources of water because of the high-to-very-high salinity and other mineral content of artesian water in most of the area.

Water Availability and Use: The Bureau of Indian Affairs NRIS data identifies a total of 280,570 acres of farmland on the Fort Peck Reservation including irrigated acres. Surface water from lakes, rivers, and aquifers are the major water source for the r,eservation.

Other reservation streams have extremely variable flow patterns and are not reliable enough for a year-round supply. Groundwater is not as abundant as surface water nor is the quality as high and where available it is usually adequate for only small scale use. This impacts both domestic and livestock water supplies and expansion therein. For these reasons, the Tribe is planning the development of a rural water system for the reservation.

Terrain: Rolling hills, glacial till, woodlands near the river, stock dams, and river valleys dominate the reservation.

Tribal Lands Acres
Agriculture 280,570
Grazing 614,318
Forestry 8,825
Other 1,782
Total: 905,495


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