In Support of Double Ditch

Looking towards the banks, the effects of erosion on the site are evident. Large potions of the banks have now crumbled away, and further damage is expected if restoration doesn’t begin soon. Dustin White photo

Dustin White

As Bismarck and Mandan were experiencing the effects of the historic flood of 2011, a local landmark was becoming endangered. Perched on the banks of the Missouri River, the Double Ditch Indian Village Historic Site has slowly succumbed to erosion. However, as state legislators look to cut funding to protect the site, a group of individuals have gathered to preserve Double Ditch. 

It is not the first time that state legislators have attempted to pull funding for the much needed repairs at Double Ditch. In 2015, as the current solution went before the state, $3.5 million was removed from the 2015-17 budget. 

The decision would later be overturned, and the process to preserve the site would slowly move forward. 

With a green light to move forward, the North Dakota State Historical Society began pushing forward. As the plan would influence the waterway though, a special permit through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was needed. 

The state historical society would file the needed papers in February of 2016, but delays would occur. Searching for new possible solutions, the state historical society would eventually set out a new plan, which begins above the high-water mark, and withdrew their application. 

Because of the two-year delay, some state legislators have found another reason to try to pull a portion of the funding. While a portion of the funds have already been secured, a $1.25 million dollar loan that was authorized has been yanked. 

However, the issue is now going before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which could reinstate the fundings. 

Among those who appear most opposed to the funding is House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood. Having opposed the funding in 2015, Delzer is once again arguing against the money needed for the project. 

Delzer argues that people wanting to preserve the site should help put up the money for the project; that the state historical society should look for private donors to make up the shortfall. 

With the site on state land though, those who support the project argue that it is the state’s duty to protect the land. However, the issue becomes more complicated with the area having been occupied for around 300 years. 

Because of the erosion occurring, 16 burial sites have been exposed, which members of the MHA nation have reburied. The 16 graves are only a beginning though, with more than 10,000 individuals possibly buried at the site. 

Sadly, part of the opposition may stem from who is buried at the site, in particular that it is American Indians, and not Europeans. According to a few individuals with knowledge on the project, who have asked for anonymity, when state legislators went to Double Ditch to examine the site, there were suggestions that because it was an American Indian site, it wasn’t as important to preserve. 

Standing out at Double Ditch, this rock structure built by the CCC has been host to many gatherings. The pathway leading to the structure is one more area that is in danger though. Dustin White photo.

Gathered to Protect
Intent on protecting the site, local residents gathered on Saturday to show support for preservation. The goal was to draw attention to Double Ditch. 

Citing the area as a treasure trove for archeologist who want to learn not just about the Mandan people, but also the movement of Europeans, Africans and diseases into the area. Because of the size of the site, its age, and relative preservation, the importance for historical and cultural study is immense. 

According to Elizabeth Fenn, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People,” it is one of the most important sites of the American West, and should be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, close to home, many don’t realize that the erosion continues to be an issue, and because of the extent, that we stand the possibility of losing it.