New park superintendent
Alisha Deegan: Protection and education of Knife River Indian Villages important
STANTON – Alisha Deegan’s “dream park” to work at has always been Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site near Stanton.
In August, Bert Frost, National Park Service regional director, announced Deegan was named the new superintendent of the park.
Deegan began her career with the National Park Service in 2005, serving as a Facility Operations specialist at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. In 2015, she joined Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (KNRI) as education technician, then became the Interpretation and Cultural Resource Program manager in 2016. On June 6, she began serving as the park’s acting superintendent.
“I knew for the last 10 years that I wanted to be in a situation where I could take on a superintendent position at a great park,” Deegan said.
When the opportunity arose for Deegan to apply for the park’s superintendent’s position, she said she “prepared, prayed and asked for help. From the time that I started with the National Park Service (NPS), I gained a family and I called on those individuals, along with my blood family, to help with preparing me and my resume. Through the entire time with the NPS to now, it’s not only been myself that I did the work for but for my family and my people. I am the first person from my Nation to be superintendent at KNRI. This is not just for me, it is for all of us.”
Deegan is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes on the Fort Berthold Reservation).
“I am a child of the Knife Clan on my father’s side. My mother is of German and Norwegian descent,” Deegan said. Deegan attended school in Parshall where her parents, Pem and Tammy Hall, live.
“Through research I found that my family comes from the Big Hidatsa (Hidatsa Proper) village located at KNRI. I never grew up living next to the river; it was Lake Sakakawea,” she said.
After moving to Stanton, Deegan said she understood why her ancestors always lived along the river.
“The Knife and Missouri Rivers have been the lifeline for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The plants, animals and even weather are different. This connection to land and the rivers is something that resonates with me,” she explained.
Deegan has an undergraduate degree in Parks and Recreation from the University of North Dakota. She is a 2011 graduate of the Facility Managers Leaders Program. She also has a certificate in Cultural Heritage Tourism from George Washington University.
In her view, Deegan said Knife River National Historic Site has some of the best preserved archaeological remnants of Hidatsa villages.
“They are the few sites that anyone can go to that have not been flooded,” she said. “The protection and education of KNRI is very important to me. The generations of Americans to come must know the history of the land they live on and that includes the indigenous history.”
Deegan said she has many ideas and a great staff at the park to accomplish projects.
“For now, I have a few existing projects to see through completion. One is to fix an ongoing issue with river bank stabilization,” Deegan said.
She said the Knife River “is an old and beautiful river that likes to meander its way through the landscape.” Through this natural process, she said one of the oldest archaeological sites is being affected.
“The plan is to save the site but do it in a way that will not affect up or down river. We have a large task in front of us but I am very happy that we are doing it,” she said.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Deegan said Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site has been open. She said the visitor center and earthlodge were the only areas closed for a few months.
“The trails and ground remained open and have been a great space for tribal members, local community members and visitors to get out, social distance and walk,” Deegan said.
The visitor center and earthlodge then were opened but the theater was closed. Instead, the movie was shown on the Knife River Indian Village’s YouTube channel. She said the flow of the visitors has allowed them to provide a very safe experience for all.
“Now that we are in the park’s off season, we have been able to open the theater back up and have set times for viewing of the park film,” Deegan added.
She said they were able to provide their second annual Language Summit virtually this year.
“It went great, and if anyone is interested in viewing, the recording is on Knife River Indian Villages NHS’s YouTube channel. We have many educational and fun videos there and working on more,” Deegan said.
Deegan and her husband, Justin, live in Stanton with their four kids, Mikaya, Samiah, Fannie and Eagle Spirit, and dog, Mint.
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or call 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to email@example.com.)