NLM healing totem journey – about Fort Totten

From Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, the NLM Healing Totem continues on to the Spirit Lake Nation reservation ( at Fort Totten, North Dakota, home of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Nation.

Originally part of a band of Mississipi or Northern Dakotah (Sioux), the Sisseton Wahpeton were scattered by the U.S. Army in an 1863-64 campaign. In 1867, a treaty established the Devils Lake Indian Reservation for the tribe.

Fort Totten, built in 1867 on the southeastern shore of Devils Lake to guard the routes across the Dakota Territory from southern Minnesota to the goldfields of western Montana, also watched over the Sisseton Wahpeton on a surrounding reservation. Construction in the late 1880s of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway (later the Great Northern) brought a surge of white settlers to the area, further pressuring the Sisseton Wahpeton. Opened to homesteading in 1905, white settlers occupied about 100,000 acres of the reservation.

Decommissioned in 1890, the fort became an Indian boarding school and health care facility. Most of its original brick buildings (circa 1870) remain in excellent condition. Some house museum exhibits, others include a row of officers’ homes, and several two-story duplex and multiplex family homes, a barracks, commissary storehouses, and a bakery.

     Officers’ Row in Fort Totten – as it appears today

     (Photo: North Dakota Historical Society)

Fort Totten remains the center of Spirit Lake Nation’s economic and government activity. However, the reservation’s geographical isolation from major population centers contributes to high unemployment and health-related issues, such as access to care.

Fort Totten is a North Dakota State Historic Site (, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (


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