Why One Native Family Is Donating Their Fracking Proceeds to Benefit Indian Country

L-R Cray Hudson (son); Stone Hudson (son); Charles Hudson (father); Kent Hudson (son).

The original story appears in YES! Magazine

By Terri Hansen and Paul Koberstein

The environmental damage versus the income-producing benefits of locating fossil fuel projects in Indian Country has divided some resource-rich Native American nations—and one North Dakota Hidatsa tribal family in particular.

“I love my tribal homelands to my very core,” says Charles Hudson of Portland, Oregon, of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where his extended family live in the midst of fracking operations. “All I really have wanted for myself is a place to exercise my hunting and gathering rights. I’ve pondered moving home many times over the years, finally settled on a plan to retire there, then BOOM! Literally. The oil boom turned the place on its head.”

Mainstream media tends to underreport or inaccurately represent these stories—reporting on community divisiveness while glossing over the risks posed to tribal communities by gas flares, explosions, wastewater contamination, or the temporary worker “man camps” that foster crime, sexual trafficking, and violence against Native women.

A new donor advised fund at the Oregon Community Foundation, the Many Dances Family Fund, aims to reverse that trend.

“We are not created to support solely journalism or Indian country.”

Hudson, the Fund’s advisor, says it will support deeply researched investigative journalism that reports on critical issues in Indian Country. This mission became even more relevant after the September 4 announcement by Indian Country Today that it will suspend publishing.

A tragic event is partially responsible for pointing Hudson’s philanthropy in this direction. After fracking of Bakken shale began there 17 years ago, the reservation experienced a dramatic increase in collisions with diesel-belching semis rumbling up and down poorly equipped roads. In 2008, Hudson’s 23-year-old niece, Cassi Dee Rensch, died in a traffic accident involving an oil field fracking truck.

Hudson’s family derives income from the Bakken oil production on their allotments and their ownership of surface and mineral rights. But this event “shook the family to our core,” he says. “My family, like many others, were finding western North Dakota unlivable.”

Hudson says a recent oil payment added enough to his savings that he could, along with his sons, establish a charitable fund aimed at improving conditions in Indian Country. The Fund’s first grant has gone to InvestigateWest, an independent nonprofit media organization.

“We are not created to support solely journalism or Indian Country but both areas are—and I believe will remain—part of our core interest areas,” Hudson says.

The fund’s name comes from Hudson’s great-grandmother Many Dances, who was born during one of the last buffalo hunts in 1871 and raised in the traditions of the Hidatsa. When the U.S. government’s Indian reservation system allocated her acreage on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota in 1891, she and her husband, Old Dog, settled into life as farmers. According to Hudson, they became renowned for their benevolence and generosity to the less fortunate.

L-R Old Dog and Many Dances

Their land was farmed until the oil boom in 2000, when a majority of Many Dance’s descendants voted to open the prairie and farms to oil rigs and hydraulic fracturing.

It was a decision Hudson struggled to reconcile.

“There is so much power and strength in Native life.”

“I had to do a lot of soul-searching.” He says all the beauty of the place, the solitude, the open spaces were compromised by Halliburton trucks, man camps, and an ideological shift in the state’s politics that collided with his values.

He says the Many Dances Fund is a matter of conscience and responsibility. And he hopes it will be a tangible legacy to give his sons when the soil and water of Fort Berthold may no longer be there for them. Their grant to InvestigateWest “is only a start,” says Hudson.

InvestigateWest uses a nonprofit model that produces investigative and explanatory journalism in partnerships with commercial and public media. The grant is dedicated to InvestigateWest’s Indian Country Initiative, aimed at delivering high-quality, deeply researched articles about Native issues that would otherwise go unreported. An advisory council of primarily Native Americans guides the project.

Their early goal is to develop a network of Native journalists to help the project dig “a little deeper into the cultural and geographic nuances of the work,” says IW Managing Director Lee van der Voo. “But we do need to get our financial footing first, so this support from Many Dances Family Fund is pretty critical to helping us get to where we need to be.”

The Initiative is producing in-depth stories on complex issues for magazine The Nation. Their partnership had included the Indian Country Media Network, until the announcement that they had suspended operations.

“My great hope is that they find new ownership and continue operations in the future,” van der Voo says.

The Fund, Hudson says, honors the legacy of Old Dog and Many Dances, who instilled a set of values that survive and thrive generations later. The 2004 book Coyote Warrior describes the family’s role in fighting against the construction of the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River. They lost, but they took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There is so much power and strength in Native life, but we get trapped talking about distress,” Hudson says. “It’s time for fresh eyes, hearts, and minds to lead the discussion. I want my sons to be in the middle of the conversation on Native futures.”

Additional material exclusive to Mother Earth Journal

Many Dances’ Grandchildren

By Al Cross, 8. 12. 13

I’ve always loved her name, Many Dances.

According to Alice, her eldest daughter, “when she was born her father was very happy, he proclaimed everything is dancing, the sun, the hills, the clouds, the trees,” so she was named Many Dances.

Many Dances was my grandmother on my father’s side. Born 34 years after the devastating smallpox epidemic of 1837 ravaged the people of her tribes, she brought hope to the tribe in regaining the membership of the tribes, particularly the Mandan who suffered the largest loss of life in the epidemic.

Much has been written about and photographs taken of her husband Old Dog who was a leader in his tribe (the Hidatsa) over the years, yet, leaving her virtually unmentioned, this will be to recognize her and the generations she left.

Many Dances was born in 1871 and died in 1923. She, like Old Dog had both died before I was born, so I never knew either in person.

I have only one picture of Many Dances, in it she is standing along side of Old Dog, a large drum is before them, the photographer wrote on the picture “a North Dakota Indian, his squaw and treasured war drum.” The photographer, Fred Olsen, took the picture in 1911. Much can be said of this identification statement, it portrays the relationship of the Indian in white society at the time. Indians, particularly the women were open to denigration and slander of their being. This was normal for photographers of non-whites at the time, no names, or other personal identification. Many Dances was 40 years old at the time of the picture.

According to family history she was born while the tribe was on an annual Buffalo hunt in the Powder River area (which would be in east central Montana). The Hidatsa and Mandan primarily agriculturists made Buffalo hunts to supplement, their main crops of corn, squash and beans.

Her mother was Yellow Corn Woman was a Mandan and Arikara; her father Iron Eyes a Mandan; (long before the name was used by the man portraying Tonto of the Lone Ranger in earlier movies). Yellow Corn was born in 1841, during the last small pox epidemic (1837) that decimated the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. So she was a survivor. So many childbearing women either died or became unable (infertile) to have children as a result of the disease. Women survivors who were able to bear children were extra valuable as child bearers, an essential need for the tribe’s ability to rebound from near extinction. As such Yellow Corn fulfilled that roll she had three husbands; Bears Tail, Iron Eyes (Many Dances father) and Sitting Bear of which she bore 7 children, helping do her part to repopulate the tribes after the disastrous loss of life. She died in 1915.

Many Dances also play a large part in the repopulation, she married twice, first to Flying Eagle in 1887, from this marriage had two children, Joseph born in 1890 and Fannie born in 1893, Fannie died early at age 7 years. Flying Eagle died in 1893, her son Joseph lived a full life, married and gave her her first grandchild Gilbert Eagle (they had then dropped the Flying from the family name when I came to know them). She then married Old Dog in 1894, he too had previously been married, to a woman named Goes Along Dancing (seems he fancied dancing women); records show she died in 1888; there were no children of this marriage.

Her second marriage was to Old Dog about 1897, eight children were born of this marriage; Alice b.1899, d.1984; Mary b. 1900, d.1905; Maggie b.1901, d. 1969; Ralph b.1904, d. 1946; Martin (my father) b. 1906, d. 1964; Lucy b. 1909, d. 1998; Alfred b. 1910, d. 1928; (from whom I got my name Alfred) and Paul b. 1913, d. 1913.

Of her two marriages she had 10 children.

Alice married Little Owl (I don’t have the date of their marriage, however it was in the early 1920s), the children of this marriage were Donald b. 1922, d. 1943; grandchild number three, (Many Dances may have known Donald as an infant): Ruth b.1924; d. grandchild number four, I have little knowledge of Ruth, I presume she died young as no other record exists. I knew Donald as a young boy. Donald served in the Army during the World War II. After the War he found work in Washington State dismantling war ships. He died while at this work from accidental electrocution. Donald had not married before his untimely death.

Maggie married George Grinnell a Frenchman in 1915. Nine more grandchildren were added. Children of this marriage were Dorothy, no DOB or DOD noted for her, their next child was Cecelia b. 1922, d. 1998; Eugene b 1923, d. 1924; Inez b 1924, d 1984; Regina b. 1925, d. 2012; Rita b. 1926; d. 2008; Richard b. 1929 d.1978; Josephine b. 1932; Perpetua b.1933.

Maggie my favorite aunt was my Indian aunt; I thought she looked most like Many Dances.

Ralph did not marry.

Martin married Dorothy Bartel, a white woman in 1928. Ten more grandchildren were added to Many Dances. Phyllis, b. 1930, d. 2008; Martin Jr., b. 1933; Alfred, b. 1934; Marilyn, b. 1936; Forrest, b. 1938, d. 1944; Dorothy, b. 1939; Michael, b. 1941; Milton, b. 1943; Carol, b. 1945; Raymond, b. 1948.

Lucy did not marry.

Alfred died at age 17 years of tuberculosis.

Paul died in infancy.

Many Dances had a total of twenty-two grandchildren. This not only helped the tribe in gaining tribal members, she also made lineage that has kept our family strong and growing.