2ECOND THOUGHT A publication of the North Dakota Humanities Council
[the SENSE OF PLACE issue]
Photo by Joleyn Larson, Mandan, ND
OUR PLACES, OUR STORIES
note from the executive director This is our third annual Sense of Place issue. Readers often tell us this is their favorite issue, because they get to see North Dakota through the eyes of their neighbors. Itâ€™s a brief snapshot of the state during a time of rapid development, precipitated in large measure to the Bakken oil boom, technology growth, and increased mobility of the population. Each year I am overwhelmed with the number of submissions we receive for On Second Thought. From the oil fields to the reservations to the farming communities of the Red River Valley, North Dakotans want to share their stories. They are hungry for an outlet that lets them connect with one another outside the impersonal high-tech venues of social media or the politically fraught interior of town hall discussions. In response to this demand, the North Dakota Humanities Council has decided to be more proactive in helping North Dakotans tell their stories. Instead of simply providing an outlet to publish their work, the council will begin hosting writing workshops across the state to help people hone the craft of storytelling. During the month of November, writers Debra Marquart and Taylor Brorby will travel across western North Dakota discussing the process of researching and writing about family and place, about the different approaches to writing essays, and offer feedback and writing tips to participants. These workshops are intended for writers at every stage of development. All are welcome to come and participate or just sit back and listen. If you are interested in having a writing workshop offered in your community, please contact me at the North Dakota Humanities Council office so we can begin to collaborate. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call, 800-338-6543.
Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt Executive Director
features [contents] David Boggs, Rolling From the West. Oil on linen, 40”x 30”
SENSE OF PLACE
4 Slant of Light
By Janelle Masters
6 Šhuŋg nağí kičhí okižhu: Becoming One with the Spirit of the Horse By Dakota Goodhouse
10 In the Eye of the Boom
By Todd Melby
16 North Dakota Through a Poet’s Eyes
By Bill Schneider
18 Breaking Grounds
By Rachel Brazil
24 Whirlwind: A Spirit Dancing
By Denise Lajimodiere
28 Writing the Prairie: Can You Really Do That Here?
By Taylor Brorby
32 The Puzzlement of Indians: Why North Dakotans Are So Surprised So Often
By Greg Gagnon
PLAIN THINKING 36 Places That Matter: Humanities and Economic Development
By Kip Bergstrom
ANNUAL REPORT Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this magazine do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the North Dakota Humanities Council.
ON SECOND THOUGHT is published by the North Dakota Humanities Council. Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt, Editor Jan Daley Jury, Line Editor Dakota Goodhouse, Researcher To subscribe please contact us: North Dakota Humanities Council 418 E. Broadway, Suite 8 Bismarck, ND 58501 800-338-6543 email@example.com
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This issue of On Second Thought magazine features artist
David Boggs, Recessional. Oil on linen, 30â€? x 60â€?
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To learn more about David’s artwork visit circagallery.org. With the sky so great a part of any scene here in the Midwest, just as it is in the Netherlands, it seems natural that I draw upon the Dutch landscape tradition of awarding the sky the greater portion of the composition to the point that it becomes the subject of the painting. Many of my paintings set an image of sky and marshland before a viewer and invite the viewer to consider the scenes as special things, as devotionals.
The paintings in this group are typical of my work of the past several years in terms of subject matter and media. This recent work is representational of the subjects I observe as well as the spirituality I maintain. The pieces speak of humankind’s place in the world, relative to nature, in the sense that the viewer is a participant in the act of seeing embodiments of nature in the works. I ask a viewer
to revere nature by appreciating the wonder of these primarily atmospheric scenes. Landscape is largely atmosphere—to me, mostly atmosphere. I see painting landscape as an act of balance, of interpreting a subject that has simultaneity as its basis. That is, it is constant, but never static. It is very steady, but very active; stable, but always in flux. In my paintings, I attempt to deal with that simultaneity—the permanence and transience of landscape.
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SLANT OF LIGHT By Janelle Masters
Stepping outside the house in Niobe one winter evening, I looked west to the escarpment hills ten miles away and saw the prairie snow drifting to the south, rolling fast and red. The cold North Dakota sun was setting, making the snow look as if it were on fire, drenching it with color. Through the blowing snow, I saw long-eared animals at least ten feet tall bouncing on their hind legs in great arcs south with the wind. I backed into the house, awe-struck, and rushed into the living room. “Mom,” I said, “you were right. There are kangaroos in the hills.” Dad, Elizabeth, and Cooper (my sister and brother) all laughed as they had laughed at my mother a few minutes before when she’d said she had seen kangaroos outside. But one at a time, my family went out to the porch and gazed west toward the Missouri Escarpment where my grandfather had homesteaded at the turn of the twentieth century. Each of them stood and looked over that frozen, rolling, scarlet expanse, then came back in, shaken. I studied my father’s face when he entered the house. His eyebrows leaping up and down was a sure sign he was tamping down some emotion. “By God, I think they are kangaroos,” he stammered. And I remember ten years later when
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I was in high school, at a time when I thought all mystery was gone from the world and certainly from Niobe, population 33, I stepped outside again onto that same porch, ten o’clock at night, and looked up into what I assumed was going to be a black sky. Green and violet curtains lined with silver hung in the sky. Not a speck of sky was unadorned. Hypnotized, I walked into the middle of the yard, my head upward. Every second, the curtains flowed into different folds and hues of purple, magenta, burgundy, lime, and forest green. I ran into the house to my mother’s bedroom. “Mom,” I said, “you’ve got to see this.” There was no one else in the house to rally. Dad was gone on one of his long disappearances, Cooper was in the army, and Elizabeth was married. My mother looked up, startled, from the bed. “What, Zan?” She put down the True Story magazine she’d been reading, her brown eyes widening in fear as if I were about to announce some terrible calamity. “The whole sky is lit up.” “Oh, you mean the Northern Lights?” “No. No. I’ve never seen anything like this. You’ve got to come out and see this.” I started looking around for her bathrobe. “Oh, Zan, I can’t go out. My feet are so bad I could barely get into bed tonight.”
She had arthritis, the family disease. If one looked closely at the black-andwhite figures in the family albums, one could see twisted hands folded into one another and crooked ankles for generations back. I sat her up, put her white chenille bathrobe on her, and helped her stand. Then I picked up my mother and carried her outside. I set her down carefully and stood behind her, steadying her as we gazed into the sky. The curtains had changed into caverns and cliffs of purple and gold, the shimmering lights casting sparks onto my mother’s face. “Zan, I can’t stand it,” Mom whispered. “Take me back in.” I lifted her and carried her into the house. As I tucked her in bed, she said, “You know what I mean, don’t you, Zan?” I nodded and walked across the hall to my bedroom. I rested on my bed for awhile, then got up and went outside. The lights weren’t as intense as they’d been a few minutes before. I sat down on the granite rock on top the cistern to watch for a little longer. I thought about what my mother had said. Sometimes in ripe summers, I would run through wheat fields and then lie down so I could see the sky through the smell of grain. But I couldn’t bring the beauty far enough inside. I would cry, my fists pressed against my chest. It wasn’t the cold and pain that my mother couldn’t stand that night. It was the beauty. Later that same year, I was waiting out in the yard for the school bus to take me to Kenmare High School, six miles away. I was listening to the mourning doves cooing in the lilac bushes when I looked high into the eastern sky and felt the
hair on my neck prickle, for I looked into a misty town hanging in the sky over Niobe. A ghost town that was a duplicate of Niobe. Two grain elevators loomed over the rest of the spectral buildings, and a few cars trailed down the foggy main street. Science would call it a mirage, a superior image caused by light rays reflected off colder air below it, but for me it was a ghost town, a precursor of the future. The honk of the school bus shook me out of my trance, and I stepped into the noisy, hot vehicle. Making my way down the aisle, I craned my neck for another look, but the town was fading. When we turned around in the yard and headed east, I seemed to be the only one who noticed that we were heading down the disappearing main street of a phantom prairie town. Years later, I would understand perfectly when I read Libby Custer’s description of her husband’s final departure from North Dakota only a few miles from where I now live in Mandan on the Missouri. Marching toward the Little Bighorn, Custer and his troops rode under another cavalry, ghostly white, galloping above them in the sky. The house and Niobe are so submerged in my psyche, I seem to think and dream almost constantly about them, their miracles, their tragedies, their losses. But then, what can one expect from a town named after a woman who lost all her children and eternally mourns? And a place whose slant of light and distance transforms jackrabbits into kangaroos? Janelle Masters is currently the dean of academic affairs at Bismarck State College. She taught English at BSC for twenty years. She is originally from Niobe, North Dakota.
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Šhuŋg nağí kičhí okižhu: Becoming One with the Spirit of the Horse By Dakota Goodhouse
I met Jon Eagle at Sitting Bull College just outside of Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. It was a bright spring morning: a few distant clouds hung in the sky, not enough to provide shade, nor heavy enough to promise rain. Meadowlarks flew boldly through a light breeze, carrying short, sweet songs of courtship.
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Jon had taken me to his niece’s land just south of Fort Yates near the wač hipi (powwow) grounds. We followed a short bumpy dirt road, more trail than road, and the pickup kicked up a small cloud of dust that dissipated with the quiet wind. Suddenly we were there, where we saw his horses grazing along the meandering Akič hita Haŋ ska Wakpa (Long Soldier Creek). The sun shown clear and true, but not hot, at least not yet, not in the spring in the land of forever. The snow had all but melted, and only in the shade of the bends of the creeks was compacted snow still holding out. Tips of trees and ends of bushes bore small tight buds, a sure sign that spring had arrived. On the drive to the horse range, we spoke of family lines. I had heard Jon refer to a lekšhi (uncle) of mine as lala (grandfather). To one another, however, we addressed each other as théhaŋ šhi (male cousins), which seemed comfortable as we are closer in age than in generation. Jon possesses practical, experiential, traditional knowledge, handed down to him, and he’s quick to acknowledge where he acquired it and from whom. Jon brought me to the horses to talk about them in front of them; it was far better to speak about the return of traditional horsemanship on site rather than in the confines of an office. The talk bounced between ancestral or genetic memory, traditional stories of the horse, Lakĥ óta societies of history and the recent Black Spotted Horse Society, and traditional horsemanship, which is based on developing a relationship between horse and rider rather than the western dominion of horse-breaking. We stepped out of his pickup and onto the floodplain of the creek, a gentle steppe above a wandering waterway that has quietly shaped and cut a path at the bottom of the valley floor over thousands of years. Horses circled around the little steppe looking for fresh green spring grass and found it shooting up through last year’s brown remains. Jon stopped us perhaps twenty feet from a mottled brown-and-white pony as we continued to exchange pleasantries about the day. After a while the mottled pony came over and shared an affectionate greeting with Jon, and introduced herself to me. I held my hand up and she sniffed and huffed at me for a few minutes and tolerated the touch of my palm to the bridge of her face. “When a horse shares breath with us, that’s a sacred thing,” explained Jon. “They’re sharing their spirit with us.” The mottled pony made a final quiet noncommittal huff of me, took a few steps back into the grass, and put her nose back to the ground. In the cool breezy morning air under a now cloudless sky, our conversation began in earnest about the horse and the return of the practice of traditional horsemanship by the people of Iŋ yáŋ Wosláta (Standing Rock). “The horses have a language of their own, and a natural social order,” explained Jon. According to him, with domestication of the horses, humans have interrupted the natural order. Jon described the pony that had come over and introduced herself to me as “untouched”: “She’s never known a halter, she’s never been saddled, and I’m trying to preserve that in her. Indeed, there’s a spirit of equality that emanates from her as though we’re brother and sister, rather than man and animal. It feels as though she would let me ride on her back at her prerogative, rather than mine.” Jon says that he looks for a telling quality of spirit, a gentle quality found in their eyes. “It tells me that they’re intelligent and trainable, and that I can develop a 7
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relationship with the horse,” he says. Much more than a domestic work animal for breaking, pulling and riding, Jon thinks of horses as friends. When people ask him how to learn how to ride a horse, he says that’s something that he can’t teach. In fact, he insists that one needs to develop a relationship with the horse. It’s the only way to learn to ride. This philosophy is intrinsic to Jon Eagle’s life. He was born into a horse-ranching family who rode along the Snake and Grand Rivers in South Dakota. In those days, not so long ago, before all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), ranchers depended on horses to ride the range and cross the steppe. “We wanted what we called an ‘all day horse’— a horse that could go all day and could get the job done,” Jon said. Jon’s children take an active role in horsemanship. They water and feed the herd, venture into the field to repair fence line, and volunteer for anything that puts them in direct field contact with their horses. They ride some of their horses and are equally practiced in saddle and tack, as well as bareback riding. Jon doesn’t push them into the field, but rather lets his children determine their own time with their horses. “I want them to enjoy this. It’s a way of life,” he said. When I asked Jon if he rode bareback, his answer led us into a discussion about western horsemanship and traditional Lakĥ óta horsemanship. “I can’t ride bareback,” he said, and then recounted an incident back in 2000 when he rode a two-year-old mare all summer and then put her away for the winter. When spring returned, he corralled her and when he rode her, she “clicked,” doing everything he wanted as though he had ridden her only yesterday. Enthusiastic about his mare’s recall, he took her out in the field where she began to behave unfavorably. Thinking that he had to “correct” his mare, Jon directed her to a run. “I was five eleven when I started that day and was five foot ten by day’s end,” Jon recalled. “I had shattered my pelvis and fractured my back in that ride,” he recalled, with a distant gaze in his eyes that told me he wasn’t just looking over my shoulder down the dirt road, but was looking back in time. The incident humbled Jon. He was raised as a cowboy and trained to have dominion over the horses, to break them. “I realized that our cowboy way of horsemanship was disrespectful and abusive. We broke them and they resented it.” While Jon was laid up in recovery, he began to rethink his approach to the horse. He picked one of Monty Roberts’ books about natural horsemanship. Roberts, who is known as “the horse whisperer,” originated the term “join up” for the way a trainer and a horse can engage in a voluntary and mutual relationship. Once he was healed up, Jon brought his horse into the 8
corral and gave her plenty of time to read his body language. It wasn’t long before she became comfortable with him again and was willing to approach him after a short time. Jon’s théhaŋ šhi (cousin), Greg Holy Bull, in Red Scaffold on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation told him the Lakĥ óta story of the horse. Jon graciously shared it with me: A long time ago, the people, the Lak ĥota, traveled west to some mountains, and then turned south where they encountered a camp of people whom they had never met before. In that camp, they noticed, too, that there was an animal that they had never before seen. Unfortunately, enthusiasm of first contact swiftly disappeared and was replaced with violence. During the conflict, the horses broke free and scattered. Warriors went into the new enemy’s camp during the fight and stole women, thinking to make wives of them. The Lak ĥota made a run north with the enemy in hot pursuit. Eventually the enemy lost heart and turned back. The people slowed their flight in response to the enemy retreat and to their wonder, encountered the horses. Warriors wanted these horses and tried taking them without success. In the evening, after camp was established, the enemy women went out in the field and sang to the horses which drew them in. With the horses drawn closer to the familiar and soothing tone of the women, warriors attempted to capture them to no avail. All the while the tiyošpaye kept moving. A day came when they came to a river, where they made an abrupt turn east, back to their ancestral territory, and, lo, the horses followed. Gradually the horses and warriors came to an understanding and that’s how this one band of Lak ĥota came to have the horse.* The natural approach to the horse, the singing and allowing the horse to come forward on its own accord, is the method the Lakĥ ota came to call Šung Nağ i K’sapa, the Wisdom of Spirit. The spirit of the horse senses the natural order of the world and the natures of men, and they respond. In the natural world, they know when thunderstorms are coming. Horses read the body language of men, and determine if they will get close or allow humans to come close to them. Jon doesn’t teach people how to ride horses or master horses. He teaches people how to have relationships with horses. He passionately recalls the lessons of the Lakĥ ota people and how they look at the horse as their own nation, the Šung Wakaŋ Oyáte: That everything out there is a nation unto itself. That everything has a spirit. This natural and spiritual approach to horsemanship has allowed Jon to harness and ride his horses without going through the traditional “breaking” or bribing of the horse. “I can actually get them to walk over and stick their head in that *Note: According to the story as Jon heard it, the enemy from whom the Lak ĥóta took women and horses were Spaniards.
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When a horse shares breath with us, that’s a sacred thing. They’re sharing their spirit with us. halter, and it’s all because we’ve established a meaningful relationship based on trust,” Jon explains. Jon has carefully examined the meaning of the Lakĥ ota word for horse. A search online, and in person among various Lakĥ ota communities have yielded different words and even different meanings. Šhuŋ ka Wakáŋ is often given a contemporary interpretation as “Holy Dog,” but Lakĥ ota elders render the term in the traditional sense as “pitiful,” not as in the western meaning of downtrodden but as “beautiful, innocent, and pure.” Part of the Lakĥ ota word for horse, wakáŋ , reaches back to creation. When Iŋ yáŋ (Stone) let his blood flow, his blood (which ran blue and became the waters of the world) was Kaŋ , full of energy, with the potential for destruction and to give life. When the Lakĥ ota say Wakáŋ , it means something with energy, energy with good and negative potential. Taken altogether, Šhuŋ ka Wakáŋ means beautiful, pure innocence with energy. Jon described traditional horsemanship with the Lakĥ ota phrase Šhuŋ g nağ í kič hí okižhu, which translates as “becoming one with the spirit of the horse.” The Lakĥ ota people say it is a way of life, and breaking a horse or having dominion has no part in building a relationship with people, nations, or creation. Jon notes that with a natural spiritual relationship with horses, the horses put people in a place of honor, č hatkú, a middle place between the natural authority of the mares and the sires. It is a place that is earned by trust, which is not so different from how one earns friends and holds them in esteem. Before we left the horses, Jon related one more story, which had come to him from Mr. Albert Foote, Sr., who heard from his Lala (grandfather) on the origins of the horse: A long time ago, Thuŋkášhila [Grandfather, in reference to a higher power] had an omníčiye [a gathering] of all the nations in one place. There, Thuŋkášhila told them there would one day appear a two-legged, that’s coming. “They’re going to be uŋšíka [pitiful]. They’re not going to be able to see as good as you. They’re not going to be able to hear as good as you. They’re not going to be as strong as you. And they’re not going to be as fast as you are. So, who amongst you is willing to help them?” asked
Thuŋkášhila. After this question was posed, one of the šung wakaŋ took off running. Thuŋkášhila then sent Waŋbli [the Eagle] after, “Talk to him. And ask him if he’ll help the two-legged.” The eagle caught up to the horse, “Why are you running?” The horse replied, “They’re going to be a burden to me. They’re going to ride me and they’re going to want me to carry their things.” The eagle alighted on the horse’s rump and said, “This is how much of a burden they’re going to be.” But the horse kicked that eagle off of him. Eagle went back to the gathering and told Thuŋkášhila what transpired. Thuŋkášhila said, “No. You must go back and convince him.” Eagle returned to the horse, but by then it had started to rain, and horse had been running for a long time and was sweating profusely. Again, Eagle said, “Let me show you how much of a burden they’re going to be,” and again he alighted onto horse’s back, and shook himself, and as Eagle shook himself, his center plume came out and came to rest on Horse’s back. Horse began to protest with wild bucks back and forth, but because he was sweaty from running and wet from the rainfall, Horse could dislodge the feather. Eventually, Horse relented and said, “I’ll be the one. I’ll be the one to carry their burdens.” The sun shone true and fair upon us; a few clouds hung high in the azure sky and rambled slowly eastward. I don’t wear a watch and I didn’t see one on Jon’s wrist either, but the growl in my stomach let me know it was about midday. The horses had wandered across Long Soldier Creek to graze on the fresh, dark-green grass there. Jon had finished his coffee long ago, and now he sat patiently on the gate of his pickup and gently tapped his empty paper cup against the palm of his hand. For a moment, I imagined Jon in another time, sitting on the back end of a travois, tapping the rim of a hand drum, about to break into song. There are no roads in this vision, only the telltale ruts of the travois that show how we arrived here. The lofty clouds are the same that floated here three hundred years ago, in a sky the same blue, above a quiet wandering creek just as hauntingly quiet then as now. The same breeze grazes me and cools me. I am brought out of this reverie the moment we step into Jon’s pickup. We barrel up an incline back onto the lonely dirt road that brought us here. It’s my turn to open the barbed wire fence gate. The dirt road gives way to gravel, then blacktop. We drive back into town and into the twentyfirst century much as the efforts of traditional Lakĥóta people also carried the tradition of the horse culture into a new age. Dakota Goodhouse is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Goodhouse is a theologian by education and a public historian by trade. His published works include chapter 4 of The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian and articles in the First People’s Theology Journal, Vols. 2 & 8. 9
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in the eye of the BOOm By Todd Melby
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When my wife called, I was at DK’s Lounge in Williston. The afternoon was on the cusp of evening. The beers were on the verge of becoming whiskeys. The men who’d claimed the corner were smoking cigarettes, telling jokes, and trying to forget about the patch. I wasn’t one of them, but I was with them. They humored me.
© Ben Garvin
I pulled the silver rectangle from my pocket and said hello. Six hundred miles away, she was walking the dog. I escaped to a room next to a side entrance, a place crowded with mops, brooms, and empty Budweiser cases. She cooed birthday greetings in my ear. It was October 17, 2012. Fifty-two years earlier, I’d spent the evening being cooed at by another woman in Hettinger, one of the few western North Dakota towns with a hospital, located a few hours south of Williston. Between those two nights, between those five decades, I’d spent most of my life outside North Dakota. As a child, I’d lived in the American West and in an Ohio suburb before my father returned home to Hettinger with us in tow. I was sixteen and the new kid in town. I played basketball and American Legion ball for the Hettinger nine, but not well. When I came to the plate, I shuffled behind the catcher with my head down, dreading his next words, “Number nine hitter. Easy out.” 11
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So at eighteen, I headed east to start a new life. In Minneapolis, I eventually became a man. A husband, twice. A father, also twice. A radio disc jockey and years later, a radio reporter. And then my sister, a music teacher in Hettinger, told me about the boom, about guys sleeping on cots, about places called man camps. You gotta see this, she said. So here I am, back in North Dakota. Drinking during the day at DK’s. Celebrating my birthday with guys I barely know, amid mops, brooms, and empty beer cases. In the eye of the boom. I arrived in March. As I rolled into the oil patch for the first time, snow curled at the edges of the blacktop. I was a few miles north of Stanley on Highway 8. The fourlane comfort of Highway 2 had given way to a twisting two-laner. As I worked my way north to Bowbells, a place where I’d rented a room, the wind grew stronger and snow speckled my windshield. Every now and then, the white lines that usually mark a state highway disappeared. Heavy traffic or neglect had worn away the paint. It gave me pause. And then I saw it. A hulking truck barreled towards me like a giant stegosaurus, wide and menacing. On its top: a flashing orange light, sending warning signals in every direction. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do; then I tugged the steering wheel to the right and hugged the shoulder. It roared past me, its wide load billowing over the faint dotted line in the middle of the road, a mere suggestion. Soon, I arrived in Bowbells to find my new home: a two-room flat constructed of cinder block walls and a windowless bedroom. The owner showed me around the place, which he hoped to rent to oilfield workers and pipeliners. For now, he was stuck with a reporter. The toilets were down the hall. A pod of showers, each with a private door, stood at attention next to washing machines and a place to sit and watch television. A kitchen was tucked in the back, its fridge stacked with frozen pizza and sandwiches available for purchase. But that wasn’t enough to placate hungry, weary men. One night, a Halliburton crew wandered in. After inspecting their surroundings, one guy groused to his mates. “This place is worse than a man camp,” he said. “At least a man camp has food.” Food was a problem. The town had no grocery stores.
The Farmer’s Union gas station sold coffee, junk food, pop, and, on some days, homemade goulash in a crockpot. No wonder I jumped at the chance a couple weeks later to move into the house of a retired social worker in Williston. Chris and her husband, John, a company hand on a drilling rig, rented me a twobedroom basement apartment with shower, toilet, and a makeshift kitchen (coffee maker, microwave, toaster oven, fridge) for the same price. Done. I wasn’t alone in struggling to find a decent place to sleep in oil country. In my first few months on the job, I met lots of men who told me about shacking up in cars, RVs, and trailers without running water. John, a military veteran, dozed in his car while looking for work in Williston. “Funny, waking up in parking lot,” he told me. “The first thing you see is exhaust from probably 25 other cars in the parking lot from other folks sleeping in their cars.” Shane, an oilfield worker I met in Watford City, had no running water in his RV. Neither did Terry, who was living in a makeshift mobile home park, wedged into a farm field near the ghost town of Wheelock. I’d just finished interviewing three young men who shared a nearby trailer when he pulled me aside. The stout, middle-aged man from New Jersey wanted me to know this: “Nobody wants to have three guys living in a 17foot trailer,” he said. “We’re doing what have to do to make money to support our families and pay our bills.” For Terry, that meant boiling hot water in pots to take “birdbaths” in his camper. In interviews, people say things only once; once they’re recorded, if those words are poetic, funny, or insightful, I can play them over and over again on my computer’s sound editing program. And then again online. Terry’s quote was one of those memorable lines for me. It underscored a fact I was seeing on Williston’s streets every morning when I went for a walk: America’s economy was so bad for working people that thousands of them came to North Dakota to get a job that paid something more than minimum wage, which everyone knows isn’t nearly enough. This wasn’t a new Gold Rush. This was an updated version of The Grapes of Wrath. The Joads arrived here every day, praying for work. A carload of Floridians in a shiny car and an underwater mortgage. A couple of women from Kalispell, Montana, trying to earn a few bucks cleaning man camps. A man who posted his phone number and a “Ready to Work” sign in his pickup window while parked near Williston’s Amtrak depot. Heck, even a dishwasher arrived here,
humping a backpack, in hope of higher wages. “I call it my mountain backpack, like the mountain climbers wear,” the lanky 48-year-old told me. “I’ve got my sleeping bag in there. I find me a patch of woods or an abandoned building. I’ve just been winging it, you know.” Lots of North Dakotans wish everyone would just stay home. At the Sportman’s Bar in McGregor, a place so small Census Bureau bureaucrats don’t even bother to tally up its inhabitants, the locals are pretty much done with the boom. They gather in a corner near the front door, shoo away feral dogs that wander in, and wish they could do the same to the oil companies and their hired hands.
© Ben Garvin
“It’s destroying the way of life in this part of the state,” a man named Lynn told me. “And they don’t seem to care. It wrecks roads. They put roads where there weren’t roads before. It brings the dregs of society into this state.” He looked up at the deer and caribou heads mounted on the walls. Or maybe he was just staring off in the distance. Then he added, “The state of North Dakota is in bed with the oil companies.” arrow. I gotta see this, I said to myself. After turning the vehicle around, I met Ben, a fresh-faced man who had been up working all night, but still had a smile on his face because he loved fishing for carp without a line. “I should be sleeping, but forget that idea,” he said. As traffic roared by just yards away, the Minot native sloshed through mud at river’s edge and kept his eyes on the water. A carp might just ripple in the reeds. If so, Ben wanted to be ready with his bow and arrow. “I’ve been with Colter Energy for two years,” he said. “I’m twenty years old and I’m running my own crew right now. I’m probably making 120 grand a year. For being twenty years old, that’s pretty damn good.”
© Ben Garvin
Other locals don’t see it that way. Lots of young guys from Minot, Williston, and Watford City are thriving in the oilfields and know how to enjoy the North Dakota outdoors when they’re not. While driving south on Highway 85 one morning, I saw someone in a ball cap, prowling the edges of the Missouri River with a bow and
Ben, and everyone else in the oil patch, works mindnumbingly long hours. A forty-hour week does little to fill the wallet. Overtime, and lots of it, is where the big money lies. Geoff, twenty-eight, a graduate of Williston High School, labored at an oilfield service company, which gave him the opportunity to earn big money at a high cost. On one pipe recovery job, he worked eleven days straight, catching catnaps in his pickup at the work site. “Sleep. What’s sleep?” he told me. “I don’t get much of it at all. It’s pretty rare anymore. Days off, you sleep a lot. You don’t enjoy it. Even when you go to sleep, there’s a million things you should be doing.
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Running errands. Cleaning your house. Not enough hours in the day to do the stuff you miss.” Geoff often nods off during movies, requiring him to hit play again and again on the DVD and watch the same one multiple times. He has curled up on the carpet while folding clothes. And he’s grabbed catnaps at stores. “I’ve done it in Home Depot when my parents were looking at lawn furniture,” he said. “I probably looked like an eighty-year-old man just camping on the mall bench. All I needed was a woman’s purse to hold.” Back at the Sportsman’s, Gayle was pouring drinks. This mother of teenage girls lives outside of McGregor on her family’s farm. Before the boom, she knew everyone’s name and what they drove. Nowadays, she worries about her daughters’ safety and her own. So she shoves a tiny gun into her bra. “Usually right now I just carry a little .380 … something that isn’t heavy or burdensome.” She isn’t the only woman reaching for protection. My photographer, Ben, and I met Nathina, a young Floridian, at a Watford City coffee shop. She came to North Dakota for higher wages, but instead encountered a wall of sexual harassment. When she jogs, men hoot and holler. They hit on her at grocery stores and bars. “They’re like packs of wolves,” she said. “They come and they circle around you and they try and buy you drinks and follow you out of the grocery store. It’s ridiculous.” So Nathina packs pepper spray, an eight-inch blade or a .22 pistol wherever she goes. “I don’t leave home without one of the few, if not all of them. Ever.” After living in the land of Continental, Kodiak, and Nabors for nearly a year, people sometimes ask me for an opinion on the boom. I often stumble, not knowing where to begin. It’s such a big story, touching the lives of westerners in unpredictable ways. I don’t know whether to talk about the trucks that hog the roads or the lines that snake around fast food joints, day after day. Or the flares that light up the night sky, giving the oil patch an orange glow. Or the desperation that hangs off some people who arrive with hopes of starting a new life. Or just the grind of it all. Night, day, Christmas, Easter. The boom just goes on and on. Roughnecks on drilling rigs often brag about how fast their crew can trip pipe, which is the act of twisting giant pipes together to shove underground. The faster pipes are connected and wells get fracked, the faster the oil flows. And oil companies don’t make a dime until they can sell that oil at market. That frenzy takes place on rigs, far from the eyes of most
“Usually right now I just carry a little .380 … something that isn’t heavy or burdensome.” people, but an outsider can sense it at truck stops and food shacks. Men in fire-retardant jumpsuits gather in small groups, hands shoved in pockets, eyes straight ahead. They talk about the job, the roads, the number of days until they can go home. They are a haggard, tiredlooking bunch. Which is why on some weekends, I escape. Leaving Williston on a Friday afternoon, I jog through the alwaysunder-construction town of Alexander, surge past the Petro Fuels stop near Arnegard, slow down for the inevitable, L.A. rush hour-like traffic jam at Watford City’s sole stoplight, then zip past Teddy Roosevelt National Park and on to Killdeer where I stop to buy a six-pack at Lariat Liquors. And there’s the temptation to pause for an on-the-spot cold one at the 2 7/8 Bar outside of town, named not for its distance from town, but for the diameter of a drill bit. An hour later, I’m south of Dickinson and the oil traffic gives way to the occasional flatbed hauling hay bales. As the road empties, I begin enjoying the drive, the crops fluttering in the inevitable wind, the solitude. In Hettinger and other towns south of I-94, people want to know when the boom is headed their way. Geological maps show oil buried in rocks deep under the earth here too. People want to know when the big payday might arrive. Or, if they don’t own oil rights, when the rush of giant trucks and bedraggled men might invade their towns like a swarm of mechanical locusts. At first, I was one of these people. I wondered, not just out of curiosity, but because I might personally benefit. Along with many aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings, I own oil rights west and south of Hettinger. Which means I might be rich someday or at least have a few extra bucks in my pocket. From my home in Minneapolis more than a year ago, that seemed desirable. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ve seen how the boom grinds through everything in its path: roads, land, workers, even entire towns.
Todd Melby is lead producer of Black Gold Boom, a public media project exploring North Dakota’s oil boom. As part of the series, he directed and wrote Rough Ride: The Oil Patch Tour, an interactive documentary on the boom. He’s won multiple journalism awards and is a 2013 McKnight Media Artist fellow.
when you bring together a diverse group of musicians, artists, and storytellers and ask them to inspire each other to create an evening that is a work of art in itself?
The answer can only be found at:
The Collaboration: Where Music, Art, and Stories Collide
7:30 p.m., March 22, 2014 National Energy Center of Excellence Bismarck State College PUT YOURSELF IN THE MIDDLE OF INSPIRATION
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By Bill Schneider
David Boggs, South Central Storm. Oil on linen, 36” x 36”
Bill Schneider has poems published in The Atlanta Review, The Southern Review, Northwest Review, Folio, and Cottonwood among others. He was the co-winner of the 2001 Grolier Poetry Prize and winner of the 2002 Kinloch Rivers Chapbook competition. He teaches writing and literature at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN.
A man asks off at Island Park, steps down, struggles over the snowplow bank at the not-quite corner where we stop. Then we rattle down the street, down its furrowed tracks of graveled, salted ice. An early moon floats behind the bare-limb trees and street lamp crooks, above the high dike hill rubbed slick by tubes and boards kids slide down on. I walked there on Saturday, frisky and fresh, luxurious in the spring-like swelter, in the dry, clear light we had that day, and I marveled at the yellow hats and boots, the red canvas coats, the bright green leggings, all the kids trudging up, sliding down. It was hard though, seeing kids like that, but it was the fathers who got me most—on sleds behind, or running down shouting watchitwatchit, or the one who knelt in the snow to zip a snowsuit leg, his child’s mittened hand familiar at his neck. I’d like that too. I’d cherish the zipping, linger long with it—to sense that small hand—its familiarity, its balance and trust. Then, sledding done, I would have shown that kid the tunnels squirrels make through deep park snow, or how the river freezes above its bouldered falls like a shell, and later, how I fix a pretty good grilled cheese. But still, tonight, even without those things, I feel fine—I do like buses— moments inside that are just for seats, for sitting down, for letting bus be bus, and for the jouncing over ice and rut that shakes a heart—for the pain that might slip out. First published in Louisiana Literature
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FARGO ELMER FUDD FEBRUARY CROWS
By Bill Schneider Maybe this world is another planet’s hell. – Aldous Huxley Since all life is futility, then the decision to exist must be the most irrational of all. – Emile M. Cioran
By Bill Schneider
or cops or cold snow drifting—then mustered in those crows and commandeered their purple-black and pounding wings to fly me, fly me up, fly me back.
One of my students wrote a poem about her father, and how, in a persistent rage, he’d rigged shotguns to dispatch the rabbits that were stripping his garden. At the time I thought, well, that’s extreme, and too, I was a liberal about the rights of rabbits. But then I bought a house. And now, though I don’t grow vegetables, and though I can’t name my hedge plants to save my soul, or my flowers, except the tulips I bought in Amsterdam, I don’t want my nature eaten up around me. There are laws in cities, even in Fargo, so I haven’t bought a shotgun, though I did buy a trap. But the door seemed tricky, and I’d’ve had to have toted it, with the rabbits, far enough away to discourage Peter-come-homes. But, relax, you say, calm down. Why so agitated? Why so shrill? Well, if rabbits can eat with impunity, then anything, everything can be eaten—my guitars could, or my confidence, or my IRA, or my Civic even (just last week the oil change guy said I needed the injectors cleaned): the world is at risk, nothing’s for sure. So I bought some chicken wire, spent Saturday making a little rabbit proof fence, a twelve-inch strip around the bottom of the chain link out back. But after a day of unrolling the wire, of snipping it into long, tie-able strips—the snipped, sharp ends pricking my hands and wrists like Sebastian’s, and just as bloody—then twisting it tight to the fence’s diamond squares, I realized—surprise— that this is North Dakota, and that winter would come. And if the snow is deep enough again this year, and with a good strong crust on top like last year, the rabbits will hop across that snow and squeeze through the links above my proof. And eat. Which is why I finally understand: there is no hope, no future. I’m being eaten alive, and I have been, all of my life.
First published in Confluence
First published in Wisconsin Review
The bus ride home—windows rimy, heater weak. An early dusk, and dense, gray clouds. Snow again tonight. And in the cold, in the muted light, crows circling icy trees. A stop at the Seniors Home, and a man climbs on, his face crimped and blank beneath a John Deere cap, coat snapped tight. He stares at the puddled, rubber floor, his fingers kneading thighs through faded denim, his boot heels lifting, dropping, like a clock wound low. Or a heart. I get off soon after, and after stir-fry and rice, and after washing up, I smooth Dakota on the kitchen table, trace the blue and the straight black lines from Fargo out through flat and white to Cando, Mohall, McClusky. I picture homesteads battered and lost—A-frame, silo, shed and gate—breached by snow and wind, splintered white and dry like husks of sheep. Later, in bed, warm, and blanket-heavy, that man comes to me again and I think that if I’d been him, on my way to Cash Wise or K-Mart, or just on for the ride around, I—I hope— would have pried a window open, or with an elbow, or with the red axe beneath the driver’s seat, smashed the window into little jabs of shattered glass—no matter blood
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Breaking Grounds By Rachel Brazil
The directions we take in life are not always clear. Often a simple turn in our journey’s path can fill us with tension and uncertainty. Three years ago, I led my family down a new road, taking a turn towards a new path. We did not know what to expect, but we knew it was worth a try. We moved to North Dakota. Neither my husband nor I were raised here. We had no family here. Our ancestors did not till the soil or hunt the bison of the prairie. We knew no one. I had just finished my master’s degree and we had two young children. As we sought out a place to live and work we did so with one thing in mind: to make a home in which to raise our family. When I was offered a position at a tribal college in North Dakota, we took a trip to visit the area. As we drove through New Rockford, the conversation went something like this: “It looks like there’s good hunting and fishing.” “There’s a grocery store.” “And a bakery.” “A nice park—” “With a swimming pool!” “The people are friendly, they smile when they wave.” “There’s a movie theatre.” “And a coffee shop.” “And an Opera House?” “Really…” It felt like a place that we could call home. I accepted the position, we bought our first house together, made the move, and began settling in. Exploring our new town, I sensed the layers of time that signified the growth and changes that had come through the years. The architecture of the downtown buildings told a story of settlement and growth in the early 1900s. Some of the buildings
have been reoccupied, restored to a youthful vibrancy. Others remain vacant and aging, holding on to the mysteries of times gone by. Old trucks and farm implements become part of the landscape, speaking to the growth the nation experienced in the 1950s. The pastel rainbow colors decorating the community swimming pool teased out pieces of my childhood and made me feel as though I were reexperiencing the early 1980s. The neighborhood coffee shop offered espressos, lattes, smoothies, chai, and wireless connectivity. This reassured us we were indeed still in the twentyfirst century. Yet, I found myself stunned in disbelief when I could not use my debit card at the bakery. When I came to my senses enough to tell the owner I had no cash or checks she kindly replied, “That’s okay. Your husband can pay for it the next time he comes in.” It took me a few moments to realize that her words must mean that she knew who my husband was, and knew me too. This exchange was my first true welcome to small-town living. 19
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I suspect the process in which my sense of place transformed this small town into my home differs from those experiencing a homecoming. I meet others who have returned. They share stories of leaving their home for college or careers and find themselves now returning to take over a family farmstead, care for an aging parent, or raise their own family. I imagine that in such cases the landscape conveys memories that lend to story. These memories allow not only the creation of oneself, but the opportunity to share oneself, and by extension lend to the transformation of spaces into places. With each road I travel or introduction I make, I lack the deep memories of my childhood or the knowledge of the stories of this particular place. For me, the landscape stirs memories of places geographically distant, but yet close to my heart. I spent my childhood in the rural landscapes of Illinois farming towns and came of age on the edges of upper middle-class suburbia. I became acquainted with industrial ruin as well as the scenic and cultural attractions of metropolitan life. Somehow, I was never entirely comfortable in this landscape. I was easily overwhelmed by the demands of suburban materialism as well as the dangers of wandering into the wrong neighborhoods at night. When the time came, I opted to go away for college. I moved further from the urban tempo of life and closer to the rural pace of forested bluffs and bottomlands of the southern Midwest. Through my undergraduate years, I escaped the humid summers to work in a small resort community in the mountains of Colorado. After meeting the man I would marry, I continued my education in the high plains of Wyoming. Together we returned to live in the Midwest. While I was far from the lands of childhood, bits of this new landscape began to speak to me. As I walked through the residential alleys, the backyard vegetable gardens were reminiscent of the one I tended with my grandparents years ago. Leafy rhubarb, mammoth dill, and luscious tomatoes each awaited their imminent transformations into culinary delights. The neighborâ€™s apple tree gave me the delightful opportunity to make homemade applesauce for my children, all the while remembering the same smells that filled my grandparentsâ€™ home. Each trip to the park stirred recollections of childhood play as my boys raced toward the merry-go-round. After a few spins, we would rest on the platform together and I would be moved by the date of 1951 imprinted on the center, realizing that merry-go-rounds were not only my favorite but a favorite of my fatherâ€™s as well. Such scenes began to unfold as part of my daily life. The memories and realizations began to take hold and told me one thing: I was in a safe and comforting place. This experience of place reminded me not only of who I am, but also of what my soul craves. It left me grateful that through my many turns in life, I continued to listen to the desires of my heart. As I spent those initial months finding comfort in my new surroundings, I had no idea that soon my soul would be in desperate need of these small comforts and beloved memories of childhood. I found myself overwhelmed by my professional responsibilities. My new position called for me to develop and teach a curriculum in natural resource management, an opportunity I was excited for. However, as I ventured out to the prairies and wetlands, I realized how little I knew of the region. I was familiar with the flora of the temperate deciduous forests of the southern Midwest and the subalpine regions of the Rocky Mountains, but not necessarily the prairies of North Dakota. I questioned my own ability and knowledge of the natural world. I criticized myself for not knowing the diversity of grasses or the species of birds and did not give myself the joy of learning through exploration. I was holding on too tightly to the demands of my position, allowing stress to overwhelm my experiences. Instead of hunting waterfowl with my husband, I obsessed about content for my Tuesday class on Wildlife Identification. Without being mindful and appreciative of the world around me, I could not understand what it had to say. Autumn turned into winter and I was prepared for wind chills and heavy snowfall. I owned fleece-lined Carhartts and kept a winter survival kit in my car. I learned to embrace the chance that a daytime high might reach twenty degrees Fahrenheit. But by my second North Dakota winter, I was beginning to feel the toll of constant sub-zero temperatures. Even more, I was feeling the toll of a twenty-seven-mile commute each morning and afternoon. I
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Choosing happiness was no easy task.
was feeling the burden of wearing so many different hats each day and trying to still have the energy to come home and enjoy my family. I was aching, not just for spring, but also for some kind of relief. I had become intensely lonely, without time or energy to make friends in my town; I relied heavily on my husband for support. One evening after having a particularly difficult day at work and home, I felt the need to talk to someone about how uncomfortable and unbalanced my responsibilities had become. I turned to one of my greatest teachers—my father. He had a way of understanding without imposing expectations. He understood how far I had come academically, professionally, and personally. He also understood how overwhelming the compulsive need to do everything perfect and right could be. He and I were very much alike. That night, I explained how much I wanted to enjoy my life, each and every day. He listened intently and shared some frustrations with his own pace of life.
He had retired four months earlier and was working through the last of his chiropractic training. He held on to what life would have to offer when he could slow down enough to enjoy life again. When he told me good-bye, he spoke two more words, “Be happy!” Tears caught in my throat as I tried not to cry. It felt like such a tall order. Those words stuck with me. They were the last words my father spoke to me. Less than a week later, at the age of fifty-five, he suffered sudden cardiac arrest. My world was turned inside out. Nothing was what it seemed. He was physically healthy one moment, and gone the next. No time for good-bye or I love you. I traveled back to my childhood home for the funeral and realized home would never be the same. In time, it would be up to me to recreate what my home and my happiness would be. Choosing happiness was no easy task. In the depth of winter, I returned to New Rockford to continue on with life and grieve the loss of my father. In addition to trying to continue the stresses of my job and care for my family, I had a whole new load of work to juggle. My father’s passing was a complete surprise to everyone. So many loose ends needed to be gathered up and followed through on. As the eldest in my family, I had a certain amount of expertise when it came to documents and processes. My brother, sister, and I had to make decisions that we were not at all prepared to do. We still felt like children. Each of us was our own mess of sorts. While I needed to work through the grief and pain, more than anything I needed to learn to relax. I had to learn to be content with the moment and content with myself. There may be no better place to learn contentment than in a small town. Through my grief and renewal, the land helped me heal. As the days, weeks, and months passed, the snow melted, the birds returned, and the trees began to bud again. The landscape began to help ease my pain. But the challenges I had before remained. In fact, they had intensified and grew until I made a difficult decision. I stepped away from the stresses of my job and began to focus on my health, my family, and my home. I made the decision to become self-employed, but
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planned to take a few months of recovery time first. Each morning I found solace in the early light as I wrote in my journal. Taking this time helped me to take baby steps towards emotional and spiritual renewal. I had to learn to breathe again. I had to find my balance again. I had to care for my soul again. I had to find my path again. Each afternoon, I worked in the garden, harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and squash. Sometimes my sons were at my side working with me. At other times, they laughed and played in their fort and on their swings. The ability to be in that moment helped give me a sense of purpose. In the evenings, my husband and I would sit and talk outside. As we discussed the changes that had come about in our life, we would hear the soft coos of mourning doves and feel the warm evening air. We trusted that we were exactly where we needed to be. These moments were what got me through the fear, sadness, and pain, giving me hope that someday I would be able to smile with acceptance. As the space around me transformed into a place of peace, my own acceptance grew and my perspective changed. In time, I no longer needed to prove myself or justify my actions. My guard came down and I began to take risks in sharing my true self with others. It was a risk; I feared rejections, judgments, and imposed limitations. But living in a small town has its benefits. People tend to know more than one might think and their understanding and acceptance is profound. Finally, I got brave enough to share some of the things that were nearest and dearest to my heart. I made up batches of yellow tomato jam, apple butter, and jalapeĂąo jelly. I harvested fresh herbs and sunflowers, then wrapped them and priced them. I went to the Sheyenne Farmers Market to sell my goods as a vendor. This was my first step in sharing myself. The warm welcome I received from the other vendors and customers helped my confidence grow. I learned that in order to heal, I needed to cultivate my talents. I returned to my love of the arts, a passion that had been usurped by academics long ago. I began revisiting my old artworks, shooting with my camera again, and sharing my interests with others. I made
a visit to the local office for economic development and shared my interests, skills, and story with the executive director. I was hoping to find flexible ways to begin generating some income that would still allow me to develop myself freely as an artist, writer, and skilled professional. To my surprise and delight, I found something more. This meeting became the beginning of two wonderful friendships. Both the executive director and assistant director had their own artistic aspirations and encouraged me to pursue my interests. I began writing a blog at pagesofparadigm.com to document the challenges in redefining success and learning to live in the moment. Suddenly the peaceful moments and open acceptance of smalltown living not only transformed into insightful written prose, but also allowed me to identify what it was my soul needed. Embracing and expressing my inner source of creativity gave me the opportunity to redefine myself in a way that I was truly comfortable with. I became comfortable sharing myself with others and being myself around people I didnâ€™t know. I began working with the Dakota Prairie Regional Center for the Arts to integrate visual arts into the programming and in April opened Upstage Gallery. I became comfortable sharing my interests in nature, writing, drawing, and photography. I continue to write and post photographs on my blog; I also consign artwork at Upstage Gallery, and will be teaching a creative writing class as part of a youth arts program. This is where I am now, and the process continues. I am becoming comfortable sharing my knowledge and skills to contribute to economic development, education, and small-scale agriculture in the place that had nurtured me back to life. I offer professional services in grant writing and project development. I am part of an effort to enhance the community garden and establish a farmers market. I still grow my garden and look forward to the harvest again this year. The path I have journeyed led to me to a sense of belonging. I have learned to live, reach out to others, become part of a community, and ultimately contribute to my own sense of place. I feel nourished, encouraged, and supported by the atmosphere that surrounds me, by the distinct shape of the roads I travel every day, and by the radiance that emerges every from each turn I take.
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I had to care for my soul again. I had to find my path again. Rachel Brazil holds an interdisciplinary masterâ€™s degree from the University of Wyoming in American Studies and Environment & Natural Resources. She is an independent artist, writer, and project consultant living in New Rockford, North Dakota. She enjoys reading, gardening, and exploring North Dakota with her husband and two young boys.
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Whirlwind: A Spirit Dancing By Denise Lajimodiere
The day is hot and dry. While running on a narrow prairie trail barefoot, braids flying, kicking up dragonflies, listening to the whirr and tick of wings, loud in the thin summer heat, I am suddenly engulfed in a rotating wind, my skirt flapping wildly around my legs. The whirlwind released its grip and continued down the trail ahead of me, tall and thin, spinning clockwise. I still see it dancing for a ways before flicking its tail and disappearing.
I was six years old that summer day. Born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in the north-central part of North Dakota, along the Canadian border, I spent the first years of my life in the village of Belcourt, the rolling turtle shell hills to the north, the prairie to the south. Later that summer I found myself stuffed into our family station wagon with my grandmother, brother, and sister in the back seat, and Ring Eye, our dog, curled up on a blanket in the “way back.” A trailer packed with all our meager household belongings was hooked up to the wagon. We were relocating to Portland, Oregon. Relocation was a Bureau of Indian Affairs program designed to help Native people leave the reservation and find work in large cities. Years later ,I learned it was also a program to encourage Native people to assimilate into White society. My father, a carpenter, had a difficult time finding work in North Dakota’s brutal winters, and feeding a family of six on the reservation commodity food program proved difficult. We took the “high line” road through Montana, brutal in its length and long stretches between towns. The few stops we made were for gas, while we kids fueled up on Nehi orange pop and potato chips. Dad hated stopping, even for potty breaks—we had to pee in coffee cans!
David Boggs, Departing Storm, Pink Lights. Watercolor on paper, 13.5” x 23.5”
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We left the plains and entered the mountains. Terrified as we climbed higher and higher, I laid as low on the backseat floor as I could, my father teasing me for years, saying, ‘I thought the engine was knocking, but it was your knees!” Several days later, we arrived in Gresham, a small town outside of Portland, near Mt. Hood. My uncle and cousins were there to greet us and offer temporary housing until we could get on our feet. Also there to greet us, were tall fir trees that
shut out the sky, sun, and horizon. The damp, dank, mildew smell everywhere was overpowering. Dark grey clouds hung low overhead. That first night in Oregon, the nightmares began, waking me up at night, screaming in terror. Horrifying monsters chasing me, Kookoosh under the bed trying to grab me. Night terrors that seemed never ending and relentless. As the only Native in all-White schools, I was subject to teasing, being called
“squaw,” “stinking injun;” and I was jerked around the playground by my long braids, chased home with crowds of kids throwing dirt clods and pine cones after me. By fourth grade, I had stopped speaking, refused to go to school, and was sent to see a child psychologist, a kind gentleman who let me play with dolls and toys in a sandbox. I eventually began speaking again, but also became a fighter and fought my way through the rest of grade school and high school.
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Throughout the fourteen years living in Portland, we would often travel back to the reservation, and I would plead with my parents to let me stay with my cousins and my grandfather. I loved their lilting singsong patois, a mixture of French, Cree, and Ojibwe. The people on the reservation looked like me. Having been literally stolen and sent to boarding schools in the 1920s, my parents refused to be separated from us kids. I vowed I would return to the reservation to live as soon as I could. After completing my sophomore year at Portland State University, I saw a flyer advertising a Northern Plains Indian Teacher Corps Program at the University of North Dakota where I could be stationed on my home reservation. I applied and was accepted. I packed all that I owned in an old, worn, leather suitcase and dragged it through downtown Portland to the train station, my arm lengthening along the way from the weight—no wheelies in those days. Another Teacher Corps intern and I rented a small house in Dunseith. I was home. I was fulfilling a life’s goal of working on the reservation as a teacher to the youth of my tribe. After years of city living, pollution, concrete jungle, and heavy traffic, I reveled in the vast emptiness of the plains, the beauty of the Turtle Mountains covered in aspen, bur oak, willow, and freshwater lakes. That first summer home I experienced North Dakota thunderstorms that shook the earth: massive flashes of light rent the air, followed by explosive booms, torrential downpours, and then, just as quickly as the storm came on, it was over, so different from the fretting gloomy veils of rain that could last for weeks and weeks on end in Portland. I wanted to fully experience a blizzard, so I bundled up and went out walking 26
in a great December snowstorm, tribal police pulling up beside me yelling that the wind chill was fifty below! And did I want a ride home? I sat in teaching lodges listening to elders. I gave Grandma Great Walker tobacco and asked to be given my spirit name. Through ceremony, I received the name Thunder Cloud Woman, a name she had dreamed. “I saw you on top the high thunderclouds.” I began dancing, driving to powwows—celebrations— throughout the state, in love with how the wide prairie sky ramped up and over my truck and landed behind me. The smell of sage and sweet grass wafting in through my open windows was intoxicating. On a warm August night, achingly beautiful hand drum round dance songs brought out the northern lights, jiibayag niimi’idiwag, over our tribal powwow grounds, a healing power, our ancestors dancing with us. One day, a dragonfly hovered in front of me while I was dancing at the Red Lake celebration. We were dancing for the spirits of the children that had been killed that year in a school shooting. It looked at me with its huge eyes, eyes that have 30,000 facets; eyes that provide a nearly 360-degree field of vision that can detect movement sixty feet away, eyes I felt were looking right through me. It spun around and joined other dragonflies dancing above our heads. Ojibwe spiritual beliefs tell us the spirits of our ancestors are carried to earth on the backs of the dragonfly. Perhaps the children joined us that day. Dragonflies, obodashkwanishi, are considered holy creatures with healing powers. Elders counsel us, “If a dragonfly lands on you and is moving its feelers, you are being cleansed.” Dragonflies are the world’s fastest
insect and are capable of rapid evasive action. Warriors were drawn to them because of their quickness, and when they fly near the ground, they create dust that makes them hard to see, thus decorating their shields, clothing, moccasins and bodies with dragonfly designs. Dragonflies are also “of the women.” We carry our babies surrounded by one of the four sacred waters. Dragonflies come from another of those sacred waters as nymphs that eventually undergoes a metamorphosis. Elders tell me that dragonflies are the “little whirlwind of the People.” They can be seen formed into funnel-shaped swarms, moving across the prairie. Whirlwinds, gizhibaayaanimad, often appearing on sunny days, are believed to have sacred power by plains tribes. They are considered literally to be stirred up by the rotation of dragonfly wings. Nightmares have long ago ceased. Living in my beloved North Dakota, I have absorbed the healing powers of Thunder Beings, Northern Lights, dragonflies, and whirlwinds. Driving across the plains from my university job in Fargo to the Turtle Mountains, whenever I see a whirlwind, I’m engulfed in memory of that day long ago. The warmth of that day, the wind on my arms, my cotton skirt billowing, hot and cold bits of air encircle me as I return to that magical moment when my spirit danced with a whirlwind stirred up by dragonfly wings.
Denise Lajimodiere is an enrolled citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and an assistant professor in North Dakota State University’s Educational Leadership program. She has a published book of poems entitled Dragonfly Dance.
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David Boggs, Sunset Over Marshlands II. Oil on canvas, 24” x 48”
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writing the prairie: can you really do that here? By Taylor Brorby
For the past several years I have been practicing sentences. Yes, practicing; that’s what writers do. Writers often go back in their memories to mine from experiences that help shape their perceptions of the present and the future. In my recent mining, I have been thinking about writing and North Dakota. North Dakota’s landscape is wide and expansive; it is not too hard to imagine that, in some particular—or maybe peculiar—way, it contains the entirety of creation. The Red River Valley reminds me of what the earth might have looked like after the great flood Noah experienced; the badlands hold not only the mystique of the American West, but also dinosaurs; the Missouri River has a rich history of buffalo, bear, indigenous culture, along with the Corps of Discovery; Lake Metigoshe, with its meandering lakefront, allows the mind to contemplate the beauty of birchbark trees in autumn. North Dakota has such wonderful names for its geography, like the Turtle Mountains, Bullion Butte, and the Petrified Forest. There is room for a story to let loose in many of the human-made features as well: the village of Fort Ransom, the Peacock Alley Bar in Bismarck, and the Whirl-A-Whip ice cream machine in Stanley are all uniquely North Dakotan. In the words of the seventeenth-century writer and angler, Izaak Walton, the writer must study to be quiet. He (and I use this gender pronoun only because I am a male writer) must quiet his mind in order to listen to his imagination. Annie Dillard, in her 1989 essay, “Write Till You Drop,” gave this sound advice about writers: “She is careful of what she reads, for that is what she will write. She is careful of what she learns, because that is what she will know.”
[The writer] must quiet his mind in order to listen to his imagination.
So what have many North Dakota writers learned and come to know? To succeed in being a writer they must leave. Louis L’Amour settled in Los Angeles; Rich Karlgaard lives in the San Francisco Bay area; Maxwell Anderson lived in Palo Alto before retiring to the East Coast; Eric Sevareid died in Washington, D.C.; James M. McPherson lives in Princeton, New Jersey; Chuck Klosterman, who writes a weekly ethics column for the New York Times, lives in New York City. Louise Erdrich, winner of this year’s National Book Award, and her sister, Heid Erdrich, both live in Minneapolis. Those who are young and are ambitious to write learn early to get out. But there must be something else. After all, two famous North Dakota writers (who are not read in North Dakota schools) have resided in the state. Kristjan Niels Julius, the famous Icelander
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who moved to Thingvalla Township near Mountain and is buried there; and Larry Woiwode, recipient of numerous awards and accolades, who has been the state’s poet laureate since 1995, lives a few miles from Mott, although he too left his birthplace for several decades while he honed his craft. Could the literature about North Dakota be the reason so many writers leave or never come to live in North Dakota? Maybe, but I think not. Yes, Debra Marquart’s well-written memoir The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere paints North Dakota as a place where, as soon as you can drive, you should get the hell out; and Ole Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth does not necessarily paint a lovely scene about life on the prairie. In contrast to these two books there are so many moving—and exciting—books that come out of this wind-blown, prairie landscape: Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City (which is actually about growing up in Wyndmere) helps to define what heavy metal meant for a generation; Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography examine’s the religious life lead on the prairie and what the Benedictine tradition inspires her to contemplate; Eric Sevareid’s incredible memoir, Canoeing with the Cree, documents the difficulties in paddling from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay, with much of the journey taking place along the Red River. If that isn’t enough, almost the entirety of Louise Erdrich’s moving and complex body of work is set in imaginary (and some actual) places in North Dakota. There is much written about the Peace Garden State. I am not convinced, though, that all is at peace with the thought of having writers in North Dakota. Writers are dissenters and dissidents; that is, they probe and poke, examine and 30
question, beleaguer and assault received wisdom, values, and assumptions. Writers help hold mirrors to our flaws and foibles. This does not sit well with those of us who have insecurities. And a place’s oddities do not warrant defensiveness. I think it is odd that where I live (in Minnesota), we have a Spam history museum, and that the town of Aitkin has a fish house parade, and that Luverne has the Tiny Church, which seats four people. Those things are odd, aren’t they? But in Minnesota I am able to write about them, point out how odd they, in fact, are, and I am—usually—able to get people to agree and laugh with me about these funny things. North Dakota has some oddities, too, like the collection of roadside art from the Enchanted Highway to a series of huge animal statues: Salem Sue, the Holstein cow in New Salem; the world’s largest buffalo is in Jamestown; Turtle Lake’s Rusty the Turtle, and Steele’s Sandy, the world’s largest sandhill crane. The state offers an unlimited array of potentially humorous subjects for writing. But writing is not always humorous, and that is part of my worry about living and writing in North Dakota. Good writing—writing that can be funny, deep, complex, and insightful—should be unsettling. And writers are also unsettling. It is true that it is often hard to see the work that a writer is doing, much of it happens in solitude or in his head. And in a harsh landscape that prides itself on hard labor, this might be viewed as suspicious. Writers are forced by nature and the constrictions of their vocation to read, to think deeply, and to practice sentences. This is hard work. Try it. Yes, bringing in the fall beet harvest is difficult, and so is raising cattle, and so is working in the Bakken oil fields. But writing a well-turned sentence can also be laborious. In his insightful essay, “On Apprenticeship,” Bill Roorbach recounts an experience that is familiar to most writers: At a Christmas gathering back home in the flatlands of Connecticut I got stuck at a house party talking to a real estate lady and her banker husband. Nice folks. She had read my book, a memoir called Summers with Juliet, which chronicles eight summers spent traveling with my now wife, the painter Juliet Karelsen. He had not read the book, even grinned and admitted he hadn’t actually read a whole book since college. Maybe not even in college, ha ha. And she said, “We could have written that book.” “Yes!” he cried, “All the adventures we’ve had!” “And the long courtship, too,” she said. I liked her. Who wouldn’t? Lovely, intelligent, active, charming, successful. He said, “Always wanted to take off a month and write the darn thing!” He really said this. A pleasant banker who hadn’t read a book maybe ever. “This is before we settled down,” she said. “Rent a little cabin, write the darn thing,” he said, dreamily. Some of his rough edges, most of the possibility of personality, had been rubbed off by banking, but not all. There was enough of a man left there to take him seriously.
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I smiled, said nothing. I’m not entirely churlish sometimes and I know people say dumb things sometimes. I do have a sense of humor. And I have had such conversations before . . . A doctor at a conference in Montana (and a doctor at Stonecoast and a doctor at Steamboat Springs and a doctor at every conference I’ve ever braved teaching—doctors are famous offenders) strode up to me during cocktails and announced that—now that she was established as a surgeon (in fact, perhaps a little bored with it by now, the glamour having worn off)—yes, now that she had control of her time, she was going to take six months off and write her story. Mine had inspired her, she said. I said I was pleased to be her inspiration. I wished her luck. Then there was a pause. The rattling of ice cubes. I knew how smart it would be to keep silent, but I gulped my drink and said, “You know, you’ve inspired me! I’m going to take six months off and become a surgeon like you, since I admire you, and since neurology seems most up my alley—after all, I work with my brain practically every day! Yes! That’s it! Now that I’m an established writer, I think I’ll just take six months off and heal a few brain wounds.” I share this story because I think it gets at something in the North Dakota mentality. Those of us who have had the benefit of growing up in a state known for its safety, wide-open landscapes, and friendly residents, also wrestle with its consistency. Good, hard, manual labor has been here from the state’s incorporation into the Union. Those of us who have done well both in and outside of the state have succeeded due to the principles and education we received in North Dakota. The state has the ability to create one of the most incredible creative writing programs in the country due to its excess funds from the Bakken oil boom. Why not? Places just as rural, such as Iowa and Montana, have the good benefit of two of the most highly esteemed writing programs in the country. And what about writing colonies and writers’ retreats? Jentel Artist Residency Program is housed twenty miles outside of Sheridan, Wyoming, and just eleven miles to the east UCross holds its own residency. Minnesota has numerous opportunities for writers, including the Lanesboro artist residency, the Anderson Center in Red Wing, and The Loft Literary Center, one of the nation’s leading literary arts centers. North Dakota has no such opportunities. Consistency is one North Dakota value: the harvest can always be counted on occurring; children roll back into their school schedules come August; Bismarck, Fargo, and Grand Forks might get a new restaurant that is the talk of the town for the next few months. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out, “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.” However, I’m still not convinced there is nothing to do in North Dakota. Maybe it is how we have come to view the state with the well-worn idea that the cold weather keeps the riffraff out. I say let the riffraff in, embrace it, and welcome it with open arms. After all, artists can be an interesting species of riffraff. One thing North Dakota can pride itself on is its ability to inspire stories. Before visiting our home on Lake Sakakawea, my college friends had never seen fields of sunflowers before. They scrunched their faces against the windows just to be closer to those amazing yellow giants. The floods, the settlers, the dinosaurs, Ellendale’s opera house, and Casselton’s Can Pile all provide plenty of writing
One thing North Dakota can pride itself on is its ability to inspire stories. material and the foundation for a good story. The writer-farmer William Kittredge helps us get at it in a different way: “We live in stories. What we are is stories. We do things because of what is called character, and our character is formed by the stories we learn to live in. Late in the night, we listen to our own breathing in the dark and rework our stories. We do it again the next morning, and all day long, before the looking glass of ourselves, reinventing reasons for our lives. Other than such storytelling, there is no reason to things.” So what are the stories we are telling? Do they only include farming as a job or do they help us see how imaginative and creative farming is? Can we share stories that help others see how beautiful a sunset in the badlands might be? Did you ever hear the story about Aunt Lizzy and the time the boat motor gave out on Lake Sakakawea? Here is my question for you: Are you putting pen to paper? Because, after all, writing is more than a hobby— like farming, it is a way of life. We need curious people to observe their surroundings, collect and share stories, and, at the start of the day, go into their writing room and sit with themselves and say, “God, it’s good to be a writer in North Dakota.” A native of Center, North Dakota, Taylor Brorby is a writer and environmentalist based in Minneapolis, MN. Taylor has received grants and fellowships from Hamline University and St. Olaf College. His work has appeared on Minnesota Public Radio, in the journal Rock, Paper, Scissors, Augsburg Fortress Press, in newspapers, and The Huffington Post, where he writes on education. 31
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or tribal governments challenge
The Puzzlement of Indians: Why North Dakotans Are So Surprised So Often
the state government on issues
By Greg Gagnon
From time to time events on or about Indians and reservations impinge on the general population. The media reports a scandal on one of the four reservations in North Dakota,
ranging from oil revenues to highway jurisdictions to the state’s obligations. Each time, most North Dakotans and their elected officials act as if the issues involving Native Americans have just suddenly appeared. Too often the state’s citizens, who ought to know better, make statements as if there is no history.
Recently, oil field revenues, a child protection tragedy on Spirit Lake Reservation, and debate about the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act have gained headlines. Public statements by responsible officials, as well as rants by the irresponsible, reveal profound ignorance about the status of American Indians and their governments. Life would be so much easier if all North Dakotans, including Native Americans, knew and understood the historical past and the legal relationships among the tribal, state, and federal government. Knowing these would allow the present to be explained and solutions to problems to be developed within the realm of possibilities and not in a vacuum.
Ironically, North Dakotans who are products of a North Dakota school should know about—in fact, are required to know about—tribal governments and Native Americans. The North Dakota Social Studies Content and Achievement Standards (K-12) call for high school students to be able to analyze tribal government. According to standard two, students should be able to explain changes in state and federal Indian policy, understand the Indian Child Welfare Act, and explain current issues involving gaming, health care, housing, and distribution of wealth. To meet standard four, students are supposed to be able to explain tribal sovereignty. Colleges of Education are required to provide a course that teaches prospective teachers about Native American history, government, cultures, contemporary events, and how to teach American Indian students too. These standards, if met, could leave North Dakotans with a muchneeded foundation to understand Native Americans, their governments, and what their relationship is to and within the state. Regrettably, the standards are not being and have not been met. At the University of North Dakota, I taught an introduction to American Indian Studies each semester for nearly fifteen years. This course was available to all students as part of general education and perhaps 180 of them took the course from me or one of my colleagues each year. As a kind of pre-test, I asked students to name the reservations within North Dakota and to name as many American Indian tribes as they could. Aside from Native American students, over the years about 90 percent of students could neither name the four reservations, nor name more than five tribes in the entire United States. Other general questions indicated similar absence of knowledge about Native Americans. One research project frequently assigned was for students to survey other adults about their knowledge of American Indians
[sense of place] and their governments. Hundreds of people were interviewed by hundreds of students through the years. The primary conclusion was that the thousands of people sampled “knew” mostly negative stereotypes.
government-state-federal relationships and responsibilities. These three sovereigns with unequal and varying resources exist within North Dakota, and each has responsibilities toward American Indians.
This research has been augmented by audience reactions during presentations I have made over the years. The conclusion is clear. Most people do not know the basics of Indian policy and law, history, contemporary issues, and the relationship between states and tribal governments. Over the years, I have compiled a list of common stereotypes. Number One is that Indians receive a check from the government just for being Indians. Hint: This is not true.
For instance, who is responsible for the child welfare system on Spirit Lake Reservation? Funding for child welfare programs usually comes from the federal government and is channeled through the state. The state is supposed to apply for funding, but in North Dakota the state government chose not to. Tribal governments and states are supposed to have working agreements dealing with child welfare, including standards and funding. The federal government is supposed to provide standards and training. The tribal government is supposed to regulate and hire social workers with funding from the federal government. Imagine the cracks that can occur and have!
Common beliefs revealed in the student research are that reservations are violent, lawless areas and that tribal governments are not “real” governments. Blatantly racist “facts” were frequently reported: “All Indians are thieves, alcoholics, and live on welfare.” “Indians get everything for nothing and live off the government.” “Indians are violent.” “Indians are not subject to laws.” Remember, I am not talking about an ill-informed few but about hundreds. Although racist statements are common, they are not as dominant as erroneous generalizations about the state of Indian country. Many studies in other areas of the United States echo the research my non-Indian university students developed through talking to their fellow students, their families, and people in their hometowns. One unfortunate result of such ignorance is that it prevents understanding the complexity of tribal
Actions or inaction by each of the governments contributed to the situation that a child was protected
by no one on Spirit Lake Reservation. Social workers on reservations have case loads several times larger than social workers in Bismarck or Cavalier—why is this the case? Who has ultimate jurisdiction? Are there solutions? Yes, but states, tribal governments, and the federal government have to understand the problems and work together on them. Instead, responsible journalists wrote an exposé, which was followed by editorial outrage. Reactions to the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2013 (VAWA) illustrate the problems caused by lack of knowledge. Several legislators opposed VAWA because of provisions allowing tribal courts to prosecute a non-Indian living on reservations and having a dating or other relationship with an Indian. Their argument was that White people could not get a fair trial in tribal court. Of course Indians have been tried by federal and state courts since the late nineteenth century. Perhaps these legislators feel that White people are inherently fair and Indians are not.
David Boggs, Trailing Remains. Oil on linen, 30” x 60”
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[North Dakotans] were only taught that states are sovereign, but not that tribes are also sovereign over the same land and people. on the situation, we are subject to the jurisdiction of three different sets of courts and laws.
If Indian governments are not able to enforce the law on non-Indians within a reservation, how are they supposed to have an effective child welfare system? Many Indians are married to non-Indians and, inevitably, some abuses of children occur. Who has jurisdiction? The state? The federal government? It is terribly complicated. Simplistic diatribes about Whites not getting a fair trial or tribal governments being dysfunctional or, as one legislator allegedly said, that tribal councilmen should be beaten, do not offer solutions. Perhaps a reiteration of the federal-state-tribal government relationships is in order. Please remember that these relationships are far more complicated than I can possibly convey in an essay. Although I am Indian, these generalizations about the unique relationship of American Indians and their governments is not a description of what I wish it were. I am summarizing federal Indian law and policy as created by United States courts, legislators, and administrations. There are several sources where one can read more about these policies, but I recommend beginning with American Indian Law in a Nutshell (5th edition) by William Canby, Jr., a former federal judge who is not Indian. Indians are defined by federal law as members (citizens) of a federally recognized tribe. The federal government defines what a tribe is. Citizenship is defined by each reservation government in its constitution which was approved by the federal government. All tribes require that citizens be descended from at least one tribal member. The reservations within North Dakota, like most reservations, include a blood quantum of at least onefourth tribal â€œblood.â€? Blood quantum is a holdover from nineteenth-century racism that even most Native Americans accept, but that is another story. The tribal government and/or the federal government maintain membership rolls. Native Americans are citizens of three sovereign governments. We are all United States citizens if born in the United States. We are all tribal citizens by meeting the criteria for citizenship laid out in our tribal constitution. We are citizens of the state we live in according to the requirements for state citizenship established by state constitutions and laws. Depending 34
Reservations were and are established by federal law, treaties, and executive orders. The lands are held in trust for the Indians of the reservation by the federal government which has a trust responsibility to maintain and protect the land and resources on behalf of the tribe. This is a major area of conflict, and most tribes have legal departments that work very hard to remind the federal government of its acknowledged requirement. Ultimately, all trust reservation lands are federal lands, which is why they cannot be taxed by any government, state, local or tribal, just as the Grand Forks Air Force Base cannot be taxed. To complicate land matters, all land within the boundaries of a reservation is not trust land held by either the tribal government or individual Indians. The federal government sold quite a bit of land within reservations to nonIndians and this is private land, mostly subject to state jurisdiction. The federal government retains some reservation land for its uses. Most reservations in North Dakota are 50 percent or more non-Indianâ€“owned so that ownership patterns look like a checkerboard of Indian, tribal, federal, state, private squares. There are four separate tribal governments and reservations within the borders of North Dakota: Standing Rock Sioux, Spirit Lake Oyate, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and Fort Berthold. Each is a legal tribe but most contain
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descendants of several tribes. For instance, Fort Berthold includes Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes governed by a single tribal government. These governments are sovereign according to federal law because they pre-existed the United States. Sovereignty was not given to them by the United States; sovereignty is inherent. Tribal governments have all of the powers of a sovereign government that have not been taken or “voluntarily surrendered.” For instance, tribes make laws and can tax. They cannot have an army, relations with a foreign government, or override federal law. State governments do not have jurisdiction on reservations or trust land but they have limited jurisdiction for non-Indians and private land. Both state and tribes are expected to coexist and forget histories of land loss, discrimination, and state encroachment. Tribes have been reclaiming their governance rights, some say at the expense of states, since the 1970s. States have mandated roles for public schools, jurisdiction within reservations for non-Indians with some exceptions, and have to deliver many programs that are statewide. States receive federal funds for roads, schools, law enforcement, social services, and other programs for all of the citizens of the state—how that works out requires a great deal of cooperation between tribes and states. In many cases, tribes and states have dual responsibilities under federal law. Hunting and fishing regulations,
environmental protection, air quality, and even drug interdiction are coexisting responsibilities. State-tribal jurisdictional conflicts are built into the system. Endemic conflict is magnified by the reality that many state officials and legislators do not know the facts about tribal sovereignty. Tribal governments expect state governments to accept a governmentto-government relationship. Too often, other North Dakotans are not sure what the law is and why tribes are not subject to the state government. They were only taught that states are sovereign, but not that tribes are also sovereign over the same land and people. Often it seems to tribal governments that the state opposes every right the tribes have. Ignorance exacerbates the potential for conflict because it too often leads to intemperate statements. The history of tribal-state relations abounds with examples of inflammatory speech. Often American Indian leaders respond in kind, particularly with charges of racism. For instance, when a county government does not have a polling station on the reservation, what is the cause? Many North Dakotans do not understand that tribal government control of law and order is limited. In 1885, the Major Crimes Act assigned all felonies committed on reservations to federal courts; federal prosecutors, using investigations by the FBI, are responsible for Indian law. Tribal and state police have restricted authority. Calls for tribal governments to “do
something” ring hollow when the jurisdiction is not there. Domestic disputes, rape, child molestation, and homicide are often not investigated by the FBI, which means that federal prosecutors’ hands are tied and the people suffer. It would be great if the controversies that explode from time to time led to efforts to evolve practical solutions without political posturing. However, as with scandals involving child welfare within the non-Indian population, solutions require knowledge first, good will second, followed by resources to implement solutions. Many North Dakotans have good will. Resources can be found with good will supporting the search. But unless the first step— acquiring knowledge of the history and legal basis for federal, state, and tribal relationships—is taken, good will and resources will not have a chance. Perhaps all North Dakotans, especially those responsible for making decisions, should seek this knowledge before the next crisis occurs. Greg Gagnon is retired from the Indian Studies Department of UND but still teaches a course or two at Loyola University of New Orleans. His research includes tribal government issues and federal Indian law and his Culture and Customs of the Sioux (U. of Nebraska Press) recently appeared in paperback. He is a citizen of Bad River Reservation, North Dakota, and the United States.
places that matter: Humanities and economic development By Kip Bergstrom
These remarks were first presented on July 17, 2012, at a regional forum on the humanities and civic life organized by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the six New England state humanities councils. To hear the entire presentation, go to http://www.amacad.org/binaries/video/streamPlayer. aspx?i=249. The most important role of the humanities in economic development is in its contribution to the preservation and enrichment of what the National Trust calls “places that matter”—places that people care about. In the throes of a jobless recovery from the Great Recession, it is fashionable to think that economic development is all about jobs. It is not. It is at least equally about making great places. Or to put it another way, I believe that our most important work as a species is to create places that matter, and that economic development can contribute to that mission, or detract from it, depending on how it’s done. Too many places have sold their souls chasing economic growth, and are
now realizing how hard it can be to use some of their prosperity to buy back some of their soul. The first and most revolutionary thing we ever did as a species was what we now know to be 40,000 years ago, when our ancestors created the first public art, using their hands as stencils, blowing pigment onto the cave wall around them, showing through that first act that our brains are capable of symbolic, conceptual thinking, uniquely among all species. The whales and the dolphins have language, but only we have art and science, and the symbolic and conceptual thinking that makes it possible. And in an unbroken chain from that first cave painting to today, it is the same brain that made that first cave art which could conceive of, build a machine to detect, and then discover the Higgs boson particle. From primitive cave painting to a new understanding of the universe and its origins, there is one brain with its unique capacity for pattern recognition and conceptual thinking, one unified creative process that is the same for the best of
David Boggs, Junction. Watercolor and Encaustic, 12” x 24”
our art and science. Truly, then, we are art. We are the humanities, what makes us human. Those first cave drawings, crude as they were, nonetheless transformed a hunk of rock into a place of meaning. The drawings proclaim: “We are here. This is our place.” In 40,000 years of practice, we’ve gotten much better at public art, but art still has much of that magic of its first application, the ability to transform something dark and scary into something safe, inviting, and vibrant; and more quickly and cheaply than any other thing we can do. I believe very strongly in this proposition: Great art makes great places. Great places attract great talent, and great talent creates great jobs. It is based on the idea that mobile, young talent—the lifeblood of innovative companies—like to live in cool places, and that art is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to create cool places. This role of art in placemaking has much more economic impact than the economic
impact of spending by arts organizations and their patrons. The same is true of historic preservation: the economic impact of historic preservation in placemaking is more significant than the direct economic impact in construction jobs and increased property tax revenues. I believe that if we prove this connection to placemaking and talent recruitment, we can increase state and federal funding for arts and historic preservation and for the humanities. Historic preservation has three roles in placemaking. The first is that great historic buildings are great art. Architecture is an art form that adds beauty to our lives and that adds texture, character, and distinctiveness to our places. Not all old buildings are works of art, but many of them are, and they are worthy of preservation for that reason and because they make the places we live and work places that matter. It is also true that great history makes great places. Historic buildings have another dimension that goes
I believe that if we prove this connection to placemaking and talent recruitment, we can increase state and federal funding for arts and historic preservation and for the humanities.
beyond the aesthetic: they are vessels of meaning. They have a story. They remind us of who we are, where we’ve been, and by giving us that perspective, help us to see where we’re going, who we might become. History provides us context that give our lives meaning and continuity and helps us understand the environments we live in. Some buildings become the vessels for the creation of new stories in their adaptive reuse. Some have such important stories that we do not allow them to be recycled as offices or housing, but preserve them as public spaces. But these too continue to be the crucibles of our reinvention, as the power of the original story inspires the creation of new ones.
In telling that history, it is critically important not to just to tell the stories of the folks who did the best job of keeping their objects. In Connecticut, our history is not primarily that of the Puritans and their descendants, though you might not guess that based on the number of their homes we have preserved. The Connecticut state motto, “Qui Transtulit Sustinet,” translated into modern English means “Where the Immigrant Prospers.” . . . For over 350 years, immigrants have prospered here, and still do. Their stories are can be found in many places, but especially in the mill buildings of the nineteenth century and in ethnic urban neighborhoods, towns, and villages that still thrive today.
Our best buildings both carry stories and make stories in ways that are deeply personal. The Greeks called this civitas—a collective pride of place that comes of a sharing of stories, past and present. This idea of civitas, of lived-in and living history, is something that we on the East Coast have more of than other places in the country. I grew up in the West, where history is like a butterfly mounted on a board under glass. You can look at it, but not touch it. It blew my mind when I first moved here that you could sleep in history, work in history, eat in history, hold your most significant public and private events in history. Our ancestors and their stories are always with us here, and those stories help to guide us forward. We are, in a larger sense, the stewards of the nation’s stories, our legacy to preserve. In the West, the critical legacy is wilderness, landscapes untouched by people and buildings. Those landscapes inspire us too, giving our nation its sense of possibility. That is the West’s legacy to preserve. Ours is history.
Many of our cities have a higher percentage of foreign-born today than they did in the early 1900s at the peak of industrialization and European immigration. They are a diverse lot, this latest wave of immigrants, hailing from Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, with a broad range of educational experience. In fact, the influx of college-educated, foreign-born young people more than offsets the outflow of American-born, college-educated young people, such that New England actually has a brain gain going on, courtesy of immigrants. . . . State humanities councils, historical societies, and cultural organizations all over New England have valued immigrant experiences—current and historical—and recognize that the stories of diverse people create our heritage. Our built environment with its rich stock of colonial and nineteenth-century architecture has also been the traditional hallmark of these values and what makes New England locales “places that matter.”
It’s easy to get carried away with heritage architecture and historic preservation precisely because buildings are vessels of meaning. But they are also just buildings. In fact, sometimes, old buildings are more important for the fact that they are old, than that they are meaningful. When Jane Jacobs, the great urbanist, said [in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities] that the four key physical ingredients to great neighborhoods are density, mixed use, short blocks, and old buildings, and when she said that new ideas come from old buildings, she was not talking about heritage architecture. In both instances, what she was talking about was cheap space. When you redevelop an old building, you often make it into a new building from a rent perspective. This narrows the range of uses that can afford to be in the building, in particular the income/ ethnic mix of people, the mix of retail, and the mix of commercial. This is why gentrification leads so often to its own demise, making distinctively funky places into homogeneous, upscale, generic-chic places. While mixed use and even mixed income may fly in the face of years of misguided zoning policy and cultural tendencies, it is exactly the formula that produces sustainable, dynamic and growing economies. It’s important to keep a significant portion of old buildings in a place undeveloped and accessible for low-budget uses, and to build affordable housing and affordable retail and commercial space into redevelopment projects (including through the use of historic preservation tax credits), if you want to preserve diversity and distinctiveness. The ultimate challenge of the humanities is to
engage a network of public and private capabilities to create places that are not cookie-cutter subdivisions, strip malls, and office parks—the generic, default development pattern of most of the suburban American landscape—but rather places that are “whole” and “authentic.” That is, places that are full of life; diverse and distinctive in their built form, natural environment, and social networks; empowering of their people; transit and digitally connected; water and energy efficient; and disaster resilient. We need to use humanities, historic preservation, and art to deliberately sustain and expand diversity— of people, buildings, uses, businesses, habitats and species—in the face of prevailing economic forces that tend to diminish diversity. In other words, we need to prove, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that a community can be economically successful without losing its soul. Our mission is to bring beauty to our places, to preserve and constantly renew their stories, and to sustain and enhance the diversity that makes us whole. There is no higher calling than that, nor any that is more important to our economy and our culture.
Kip Bergstrom is deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. His portfolio includes the development of the innovation economy, statewide branding, as well as the arts and culture, historic preservation and tourism functions. He has a master’s degree from the Kennedy School of Government and the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, where he was the first student to specialize in economic development.
Imagine what it would be like if lifelong learning were a significant activity in every city and town. Imagine the effect on children of seeing many of the adults around them thus engaged. –Peter Kahn
2012 North Dakota Humanities Council Annual Report During the 2012 fiscal year, the North Dakota Humanities Council supported 581 public humanities programs across North Dakota. These educational and cultural opportunities, all free and open to the public, fulfilled our mission to invest in the people of North Dakota by creating and sustaining humanities programs that provide us with a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better vision for the future.
2012 PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS Four Souls: Stories from America’s Borders A Public Humanities Symposium Honoring Louise Erdrich Award-winning author, Louise Erdrich grew up in North Dakota, where her parents taught at a school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As the daughter of a Chippewa Indian mother and a German-American father, Erdrich explores Native American themes in her works, with major characters representing both sides of her heritage. In August, the Four Souls symposium brought together four of the nation’s most celebrated writers and poets to honor her and explore our nation’s rich cultural heritage. (On April, 19, 2013, Erdrich was awarded the Rough Rider Award by Governor Jack Dalrymple.) I came to this event because for the first time in my memory a Native American was being honored on a statewide platform for her cultural contribution to our country. It brought tears to my eyes to see a native who has achieved so much speak from the heart. -Four Souls Symposium participant It was riveting, simply riveting! Every moment of it! -Four Souls Symposium participant
Lakota Language Nest On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation a three-year-old child is learning to speak the language of her ancestors from an elder who is one of the remaining people in the world who can speak fluent Lakota, an indigenous language spoken by Hunkpapa Sioux since time unknown. The girl is taking part in a new language immersion preschool program that seeks to ensure the wisdom of the past is not lost for future generations. “We have a culture and tradition, our spirituality, a land base, and our relationship with all of those is best expressed with words found only in our language. It is a sacred language.” -Language Nest Teacher
Off the Map While much has been written about the death of small, rural towns, this project focused on the diverse, creative approaches some towns are taking to stem out-migration of residents and draw either tourists or
new residents to them. Researched by Kathleen Coudle-King, Off the Map consisted of a documentary film and one-act play that drew audiences across the state into discussions on how to help rural North Dakota thrive. “It’s a story we all should hear.” -Off the Map participant “Very true to life in our town.” -Off the Map participant
Chautauqua: History as Theater Families gathered in Bismarck to hear scholars offering first-person interpretations of historical figures, that is, scholars dressed to look and sound like their subject, scholars who so meticulously research their subject that he or she could answer contemporary questions based on what his or her subject believed, wrote, and practiced. Celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Civil War featured characters included Little Crow, who led the Santee Dakota in the Dakota Conflict of 1862; General Ely Parker, the Seneca Indian chief and Union general who drafted the surrender papers signed by Confederate General Lee at Appomattox; Frederick Douglass, the former slave, abolitionist, and writer; and Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. A completely new approach to history for me! -Chautauqua participant Absolutely delightful, informative, entertaining. I only wish more young people would be involved. It makes history come alive. Thank you. -Chautauqua participant
Prairie Talks Kristi Rendahl travels the world working to end the practice of torture. She invites the most remarkable people she meets during her travels back to her hometown of Rugby to talk about critical issues facing the global community through the program Prairie Talks. She started the project to connect common-sense people in the heart of North Dakota to commonsense people from around the world who share the same interest: to better understand ourselves and our neighbors so we can work together for a better tomorrow.
After Safeguard: Ruins, Remnants, Stirrings The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex was an antiballistic missile installation built in rural Cavalier County during the early 1970s. Designed to protect missile fields near Grand Forks Air Force Base from the threat of a Soviet strike, the complex brought federal infrastructure investment and hundreds of jobs to the area. Yet concerns about the viability of missile defense technology prompted Congress to vote for the systems deactivation just one day after it reach full operational statues in 1975. The blow to the region’s economy was considerable. After Safeguard documented the abandoned site and engaged the general public in asking questions about its enduring legacy including: What does it mean to rely on Washington to create conditions of community prosperity? What are the moral and ethical tradeoffs between local job creation and global militarism?
Key Ingredients: America By Food In partnership with the Smithsonian Institute, the humanities council brought the museum exhibit Key Ingredients to rural communities across North Dakota. The exhibit explores how our recipes, menus, ceremonies, and etiquette are directly shaped by our country’s rich immigrant experience, the history and innovations of food preparation technology, and the ever-changing availability of key ingredients. Key Ingredients engages audiences, creating conversations and inspiring community recollection and celebration.
The Road to Little Rock Curriculum Project On September 4, 1957, Terrance Roberts, an African American student seeking a better education was turned away at the doors of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, by the National Guard and a horde of angry white protesters who did not want to see black students educated alongside their children. It was a pivotal moment in America’s civil rights movement that directly involved a federal judge from North Dakota, Ronald N. Davies. The court decisions rendered by Davies would change the course of public school integration in our country making the dream of equality a reality for Roberts and future generations. Today, Dr. Roberts is involved in creating a curriculum for students across North Dakota to learn about these events and the lessons of justice and civility they embody. “As an educator I feel so very blessed for your work and I look forward to applying it in my classroom.” -North Dakota Teacher “Am grateful to know that a more in-depth presentation about the challenges faced regarding racial differences is going to be available to our students. It’s needed as much now as ever. -The Road to Little Rock film premier participant
Prairie Places Festival: A Celebration of German-Russian Country Preservation North Dakota’s annual Prairie Places Festival was held in Wishek and Napoleon during the month of May. Focused on the GermanRussian immigrant experience, the festival focused on the regions heritage resources featuring the buildings, structures, and landscapes that hold German-Russian memories.
“This is an excellent opportunity for anyone who wants to keep learning.” -Prairie Places Festival participant “I felt the importance of preserving the stories and culture.” -Prairie Places Festival participant
Theodore Roosevelt Public Humanities Symposium The seventh annual Theodore Roosevelt Symposium at Dickinson State University marked the hundredth anniversary of the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party, which nominated Roosevelt as a third-party candidate for the U.S. presidency. Roosevelt lost the election to Woodrow Wilson, but he received the largest third-party vote in American history. A roster of outstanding, nationally recognized scholars explored the question of Roosevelt’s place in the Progressive Movement.
Voyageur’s Tale History came alive during the performance of Voyageur’s Tale at Jefferson Elementary School in Fargo. The presentation told of the unique blending, respect, and tolerance demonstrated by the Metis/Voyageur cultures in the development of the Red River Valley. The all day school residency focused on the history, music, languages, and art of the Metis/Voyageur people while mapping their travel from Quebec to the Boundary Waters to the Red River Valley. “It is no longer a formal, academic experience, but once again a living culture.” -Voyageur’s Tale participant and teacher These programs and many more, all sponsored by the North Dakota Humanities Council, help us fulfill our mission to transform lives and strengthen communities by offering educational and cultural experiences that allow everyone the opportunity to reach their full human potential. Our ability to offer these meaningful programs depends in large part on the generosity of a thoughtful and caring community.
for the Year Ending October 31, 2012
REVENUE AND OTHER SUPPORT National Endowment for the Humanities $598,353 State of North Dakota 10,105 Program Fees 1,300 Gifts 11,940 Interest 190 Total Revenues and Other Support
EXPENSES Council Conducted Programs 284,867 Grants 176,142 Fundraising 9,116 General Management & Program Support 152,211 Total Expenses
North Dakota Humanities Council 418 E. Broadway, Suite 8 Bismarck, ND 58501 800-338-6543 firstname.lastname@example.org
We have ways of making you think. Board of Directors CHAIR Najla Amundson, Fargo VICE CHAIR Aaron Barth, Fargo Bethany Andreasen, Minot Tayo “Jay” Basquiat, Mandan William Caraher, Grand Forks Virginia Dambach, Fargo Kara Geiger, Mandan Melissa Gjellstad, Grand Forks Kate Haugen, Fargo Kristin Hedger, Killdeer Janelle Masters, Mandan Christopher Rausch, Bismarck Jessie Veeder Scofield, Watford City Jaclynn Davis Wallette, West Fargo Susan Wefald, Bismarck STAFF Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt, Executive Director Kenneth Glass, Associate Director Dakota Goodhouse, Program Officer Angela Hruby, Administrative Assistant The North Dakota Humanities Council is a partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The humanities inspire our vision of a thoughtful, respectful, actively engaged society that will be able to meet the challenge of sustaining our democracy across the many divisions of modern society and deal responsibly with the shared challenges we currently face as members of an interdependent world.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” — Douglas Adams