Minnesota Historical Society Repatriates Native American Photographs and Digital Records to Manda, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation


The Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) is pleased to announce the digital repatriation of the Gilbert L. Wilson collections to the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation (MHA Nation). This joint venture returned digital copies of two collections containing more than 45 volumes of writings and illustrations, thousands of photographs, and other materials to the MHA Nation Interpretive Center.

Personal connections, tribal history

“It’s hard to sum up how much we felt before the event, after a long road to get there. There was so much joy and wonderful spirit around the return of the materials, and so much excitement over the future of our tribal people who want to know more about themselves and their ancestry,” said Dr. Twyla Baker, President of Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College.

“However, the personal connections have probably been the most impactful for me as the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of individuals whose images and words appear in the documents. I hope that generations of our young people can see each other and connect as fundamentally and spiritually as I did, when they see the collection. I always hope that we will continue to nurture a good relationship between our institutions as we move towards justice and healing for all involved persons.

The Gilbert L. Wilson Collections

The collections focus on the anthropologist’s perspective and the study of MHA Nation residents of the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota between 1906 and 1918. The collections have been digitized by MNHS staff in color and in high resolution, for preservation and future access.

On Saturday, July 16, MNHS staff welcomed members of the MHA Nation to celebrate the completion of this community digitization project and the return of these materials to their homes. Photo by Lori Williamson

Gilbert L. Wilson was a Presbyterian minister from Minnesota and North Dakota, as well as an amateur ethnographer. During his years of travel, he collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History (New York), recorded his observations in a journal, took photographs and made sketches. Frederick N. Wilson was an artist and accompanied his brother on some of his travels, drawing, sketching, and creating other types of illustrations. These materials were donated to MNHS in the early 1930s by Gilbert Wilson’s widow and have been popular with students, scholars, and the general public for many decades.

For those interested in the specific content of the collections, please consult the online finding aids: Gilbert L. and Frederick N. Wilson papers and Gilbert Livingstone Wilson photography collection. All contents can also be viewed in person at the Gale Family Library, located in the St. Paul History Center.

About the Minnesota Historical Society

The Minnesota Historical Society is a nonprofit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves, and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, programs education and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, MNHS preserves our past, shares our state’s stories, and connects people to history. Visit us at mnhs.org.


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