Persistence Pays Off-MHA Interpretive Center Tells the Stories

Written by: Rodney Wilson

As you cross the 4 Bears bridge west of New Town, you glance down at beautiful Lake Sakakawea, today active with countless fishing boats headed for favorite fishing spots, most looking to catch walleye or other sport fish. Ahead you can see the Island Girl, a large yacht that has been used for tours, still sitting on a trailer. To the north is the new River Willow Gaming boat owned by 4 Bears Casino. The nearly 80 foot boat will be a floating casino with 3 decks of fun.
The 4 Bears Casino is a prominent feature on the west bank. The casino is under major renovation as a smaller hotel building was destroyed making room for a new hotel tower. A water park was opened last summer to complete the family vacation experience.


Farther to the west you catch a glimpse of the beautiful building that houses the MHA Interpretive Center. Center director Delphine Baker. “My initial position started out to get this project going” according to Baker. The project originally had been thought about in 2005 “but that just died” says Baker. It would surface again in 2012. The original construction at the site was an earth lodge village, with the thoughts of building a cultural center, “but they never did get that far” says Baker.


When Baker began her journey of planning the cultural center, she did a lot of studying. She had no pre-conceived notion of what the building should look like. There were drawing and old concepts or ideas, but that was all that Baker had to go on.
Before any construction could begin, or in that case before the approval of the MHA Nation Business Council, Delphine had to write a business plan. In that business plan would be the research that Baker did. What did the community need? What was out there to fill this new cultural center/museum? Where the center be built. The MHA Interpretive Center is on US Corps of Engineering land.


“So, there was just a lot of red tape just to get the project off the ground.”
After an architectural firm had been chosen, and the concept had been decided on, there was the awarding of bids for the construction. “All of the construction on the structure was done by native contractors” according to Baker.


There was a steering committee that had the job of designing the museum portion of the MHA Interpretive center. “The museum was designed four years prior to the construction. We met diligently and asked ourselves, how are we going to get this going? How are we going to tell our story, because this is us (The MHA Nation) telling our story not somebody coming in who studied us.


Baker continued that the one of the challenges was to let people know where their land was (before the formation of Lake Sakakawea) and “how we are today.” The final cost of construction and fitting of the center was $34 Million dollars, paid for by the MHA Nation.


What do we want the final impression to be for people not familiar with the MHA Nation and the three tribes that are represented in the interpretive center?


“I want them to know who we are as people, that we’ve always been here since the beginning of time, and I want them to know that everything they learn here is backed by research, it’s not just some story” says Baker. “We have been here, well, since the ice ages. This is our original land. I want people to know we have a structure as a tribal community even before Columbus supposedly discovered America. Like city councils, we have society and clans, and even the Constitution of the United States is based off of the clanships and how they operated.


The MHA Interpretive center is very child friendly “because I wanted our children to be able to come in here and learn about their culture.”


The center has exhibits and is designed for large-scale conferences, meetings, educational sessions, corporate events, weddings and private gatherings. The center features a museum, 500-seat amphitheater, catering services and special events.


The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM, Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM and is closed on Sunday. For more information and photos of the center to their website at https://www.mhainterpretivecenter.net.

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