Introduction to Tribe Life
The Mandan tribe of North Dakota, "the tattooed people", were mainly hunters, traders and farmers who lived in villages of earth lodges on the Great Plains. A sacred cedar post stood at the center of the Mandan village, symbolizing the tribe’s cultural hero. The post was surrounded by an open plaza, and at the north end of the plaza was the village’s primary medicine lodge. The more powerful a family was or the more significant that family’s ceremonial duties were, the closer its lodge would be to the center. About 10 people lived in each lodge. Throughout most of the year, the Mandans lived in these permanent lodges. But in the winter, to avoid storms, they constructed temporary lodges in wooded, low-lying areas next to the river.
The Mandan were a part of the Hisatsa Indian Nation. The Hidatsas share a single nation with the Mandan and Arikara tribes. In the past, the Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras lived in separate villages and each had their own government and leadership. But after many of their people died of smallpox in the 1800's, the three allies merged. They are known as the Three Affiliated Tribes.