Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Geographic Information Science


The purpose of this thesis is to present the ethno- geography of the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians, and to a lesser extent, the ethnogeography of the Arikara and Lakota during the period 1738-1889. It provides not only a listing of place-names, but it also includes an explanation of why the locations associated with those names were so important, and remain important to these tribes.

The primary hypothesis of this research is that toponyms of Native American origin were generated because of perceptual and/or pragmatic reasons. Place-names, obtained from historical journals and secondary sources, were classified using a standard toponym typology. Those classified as descriptive, associative, incident, shift, or combinations thereof tend to support the initial hypothesis. Also considered was a secondary hypothesis stating that the actual locations identified by environmentally perceived native names were and are culture intrinsic. To be culture intrinsic, a place must be so significant to a group that its loss would tend to weaken, or possibly destroy, the cultural fabric of the community.

Results indicate that 84% of Mandan, 63% of Hidatsa, 33% of Arikara, and 81% of Lakota place-names were environmentally perceived, while only 15% of non-Indian place-names were environmentally induced. Secondly, 87% of Mandan, 81% of Hidatsa, 62% of Arikara, and 73% of Lakota place-names were culture intrinsic. It could be inferred from these statistics that because indigenous peoples applied predominantly environmentally perceived names to locations in their sphere of influence, they considered themselves more a component of that environment rather than a controller of it and sought to live in harmony with it.

There are three important implications of this research. First, the realization that native people in this region were very cognizant of their immediate environment, naming sites in their territory based upon an intimate knowledge of that environment. Second, this research immediately causes readers to consider what the present condition of the locations is and, if the site still exists, whether it is being utilized as originally intended or is no longer important. Finally, the ethnogeographical data will help North Dakotans recognize the contributions made by Native Americans to the state's cultural heritage which are especially important in a centennial year.