DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: Maybe you can go home again

Dorreen Yellow Bird
Dorreen Yellow Bird

NEW TOWN, N.D. -- After several weeks of pulling up some deep-set roots in Grand Forks, I transplanted myself into new soil, and my spirit is beginning to take root here in New Town.

It's a different experience that I admit I didn't expect.

I expected past years of living on the reservation to be . . . well, in the past. But like those ancient seeds that lay dormant for years and then -- with a little water -- start to grow again, I, too, am growing again in this new environment.

On the first day at my new job as press secretary for the Three Affiliated Tribes, I crossed the open area between the tribal complex to the Helen Gough Museum and the Four Bears casino for lunch. As I walked, I looked down and was surprised to find a tiny bit of grass that I remember running through as a child. Memories of those early years flooded back.

I am living in the new New Town. It has changed. It has grown tremendously. In fact, it's one of the fastest-growing towns in North Dakota.


When I look at the horizon, I see oil derricks and spurts of fire coming from the hills.

It's also odd to see the changes in old friends whom I went to high school with, but perhaps that's just a reflection of myself that I'm seeing.

And while the people have changed, that doesn't seem to have happened to the land. It's the same awe-inspiring place it was years ago.

Western North Dakota has been in a serious drought, but this year, this area took on some heavy snow. In fact, there was still some white in the trees and deep coulees as late as last week.

When I made my first journey home to White Shield, N.D., the melt was in full swing. Those rolling hills seemed alive with water in every low area and ditch. I could see the ancient lakes and rivers that were described to me by my friend, retired UND biology professor Richard Crawford, when we walked the land a couple of years ago. The melting snow was filling some of those same areas where lakes once glimmered and rivers once ran.

On the way to White Shield, there's an old abandoned town called Raub. Raub, N.D., must have a thousand stories to tell about the people who lived there when the community hosted a restaurant, gas station and bar.

Raub sits on a rise. Below is a low area that probably was a lake in the time before our American Indian people. A very small creek meanders from the northeast, passes under a small bridge, crosses the highway under another bridge and winds its way to the Missouri River.

We stopped near the bridge because my sister, Liz, spotted a sandhill crane standing on an island in the middle of the rapidly rising water. We got a good look at the water rushing and tumbling as if it were coming down a mountain. It was beginning to gather in the low areas.


At the time, big drifts of dirty snow still had to melt, and all this water still had to find someplace to go. I gasped when I saw how large the developing lake was. The water was nearly even with the bridge.

When I got to White Shield, I warned the family about the area, fearing that the bridge might have problems.

But the next morning when we returned to New Town, the water had subsided and was moving much more slowly. Likewise, the water in the ditches and potholes had dropped considerably.

What happened? I asked Liz.

Of course, what happened is that we had grown used to the Red River and familiar with how long the water lingers in the Red River Valley. But things are different in the west: It's the drought, my sister noted. The land here is still dry. All that moisture is sucked into the ground easily.

I agree. She must be right.

So, my wish for a rousing spring with water pouring off the hills was short lived, but I can say that people in this area will remember the winter and spring of 2009 for a long time to come.

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