Denby Deegan

One of 1st Native American architects in US & ND

Submitted Photo Architect Denby Deegan, center (white shirt), is shown at the ground breaking for the new K-12 school at White Shield. At left, next to Deegan, is Larry Trujillo with Special Projects for the Three Affiliated Tribes’ East Segment (White Shield).

WHITE SHIELD – The legacy of Denby Deegan, one of the first Native American architects in the United States and North Dakota, lives on in his architectural work.

Deegan, of White Shield, died Dec. 24, 2018, in Bismarck at the age of 77.

Deegan was one of the first Native American architects in the United States and in North Dakota, according to the American Indian Council of Architects and Engineers (AICAE).

He also was one of the founding members of AICAE based in Albuquerque, N.M. In the early 1970s fewer than 30 American Indian architects and 15 engineers could be identified throughout the U.S. and very few of them were principals in the firms or offices where they worked. A small group of them came together in Albuquerque, N.M., on June 23, 1975, to form AICAE, according to AICAE history. The nonprofit organization was established to promote the development of American Indians in the professions of architecture and engineering and to encourage the training and licensing of greater numbers of American Indians in these professions.

“Denby was an accomplished architect and a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes, also known as the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. One of the first Native architects registered in North Dakota, Denby’s work can be seen on the cover of Contemporary Native American Architecture (Carol Herselle Krinsky). As one of the founding members of the AICAE, we are grateful for his early contributions to our organization and leadership in the architectural design field. We honor Denby and his family in our prayers and strive to carry forward his legacy,” AICAE said in a message sent to its members following Deegan’s death.

Submitted Photo Architect Denby Deegan, second from right, is shown in 1992. His son, Justin Deegan, at Denby Deegan’s right, said the photo was taken at the grand opening for the Knife River Indian Villages Visitor Center near Stanton. Denby Deegan designed the facility.

Miriam Diddy, secretary of AICAE in Albuquerque, told the Minot Daily News on Thursday that AICAE currently has members across the United States and in Canada.

“I recall my dad telling me the late (Sen.) Quentin Burdick stated he didn’t know architecture like the Fort Totten school existed in North Dakota. He called my dad’s structure a work of art,” said Justin Deegan, Denby Deegan’s son.

“He was a great mentor to me, both professionally and spiritually,” said Herb Fricke, Deegan’s nephew who is a civil engineer in Portland, Ore. He said Denby Deegan knew a great deal of history about their family as well as history of their tribe.

According to biographical information about Deegan:

Deegan’s major goal as an architect, planner, designer and builder was the preservation of American Indian culture and heritage. During his 45 years of architectural work, much of his work was for and about the Arikara culture and heritage.

Submitted Photo Architect Denby Deegan is shown in 1979 with a model of the Four Winds School at Fort Totten.

Born March 15, 1941, to Pete and Dorothy (Gillette) Deegan, Denby Deegan’s mother was the daughter of the last reigning Arikara Chief White Shield. His Indian name, Surrounded by Enemy, was given to him by the late Sioux Grandma Circle of Tents Good Woman, a cousin to Sitting Bull. Deegan was of the Arikara and Hunkpapa Sioux tribes.

Deegan attended school at Nishu on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Nishu now is covered by Lake Sakakawea. He then went to Marty Mission Indian School in South Dakota and returned to the area to finish high school in Garrison. He attended Bismarck Junior College in Bismarck and received an associate degree in engineering. With encouragement from his sister, Marmie, he went into architecture at North Dakota State University, Fargo. He graduated in 1965, receiving two degrees: Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies and the professional Bachelor of Architecture degree from the College of Architecture and Engineering.

His survivors include Kaye Bell, his long-time companion; children, Madina (Helm), Damian, Denby Jr., Hunter and Justin; and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews including Herb Fricke.

His funeral service and burial were held Dec. 28 in White Shield.

Denby Deegan’s architectural contributions

Architectural cultural and heritage contributions Denby Deegan made to Native American communities and other communities include:

– Three Affiliated Tribes Arikara Culture Center, White Shield.

– Three Affiliated Tribes Cultural Interpretive Center, Four Bears.

– Three Affiliated Tribes TERO Building and Energy Office, Four Bears.

– Three Affiliated Tribes White Shield School (K-12), White Shield.

– Three Affiliated Tribes 65-unit elderly housing, Fort Berthold Reservation.

– Three Affiliated Tribes, Little Shell Multi-Purpose Dance Arena, New Town.

– Three Affiliated Tribes, Casino and Lodge Events Center/Motel Addition and Main Cultural Entrance and Lobby, New Town.

– Knife River Indian Villages Interpretation Center-National Park Service, Stanton.

– Interpretive Living Monument for the Sacred White Buffalo (White Cloud, Mahpiya Ska and her calf, Princess Winona), National Buffalo Museum, Jamestown.

– Four Bears Bridge Total Context Sensitive Design (large medallion circles that stand on the north side of the bridge), New Town.

– Four Winds School, Fort Totten.

– Arikara Celebration Grounds and Arbor, White Shield. Some of Deegan’s work is yet to be completed and waiting to the added to the new arbor.

Other design projects include:

– Brockton Exhibition Center, Brockton, Mont.

– Poplar Exhibition Center, Poplar Mont.

– Oswego Community Center, Oswego, Mont.

– Urban American Indian Center, Minneapolis, Minn.

– Pow Wow Arbor, Lake Traverse Reservation, S.D.

– Assiniboine/Sioux Dance Arena, Fort Peck, Mont.

His latest design inspiration is in collaboration with DSGW Architects on the upcoming MHA Nation Interpretive Center at New Town.

– Information compiled by Dorreen Yellow Bird of White Shield