2ECOND THOUGHT A publication of the North Dakota Humanities Council
[the SENSE OF PLACE issue]
Photo by Joleyn Larson, Mandan, ND
All We Are, All We Have
note from the executive director Growing up in North Dakota in the early part of this century, news journalist Eric Sevareid was always dismayed that the only photos ever shown of the state in geography books were of wheat fields.“Was that all there was, all we had?” he questioned. All of the other states featured seemed more dynamic and alluring in comparison. When he looked around his town he lamented, “Wheat was the sole source and meaning in our lives…we were never its masters, but too frequently its victims.” Indeed, when the crops failed, Sevareid’s father was forced to close his ruined bank and move from the state. Years later when Sevareid told people who inquired that he was from North Dakota, he was met with silence followed by a change of topic. There was simply no common reference. Too few people had been to the state or heard much about it. For years Sevareid’s bleak picture of North Dakota rang true, and hundreds of thousands like him migrated out of the state at a young age never to return. Rural communities dwindled at alarming rates culminating in a 2008 feature article in National Geographic magazine entitled, “The Emptied Prairie,” which featured the subheading, “North Dakota ghost towns speak of an irreversible decline.” Now, thanks to oil development, the world is paying attention to the state Sevareid felt while growing up was, “a lost and forgotten place upon the far horizon of my country.” But as history has taught us, the new never completely escapes the old, and we have to ask ourselves if the endless wheat fields are simply being replaced by endless oil rigs. Just as when the rain failed to follow the plow, what happens when the oil plays out? Will we face another wave of out-migration? Or will we take this time of opportunity to invest in an infrastructure of ideas that supports innovation and sustainability at all levels of society? While oil certainly has an important place in the development of the state, let’s hope for something more far-reaching, something that will put us on the map as a go-to-destination, not simply an economic location. In order to accomplish this, we need a vibrant educational and cultural landscape to mirror and enhance the economic opportunities on the horizon. It is time to open the borders of our state and our minds to greater possibilities than either agriculture or oil alone can provide. Let’s lead the nation in attracting and cultivating great minds by investing in those areas of human endeavor that serve as catalysts for creativity, community, and innovation, including science, technology, engineering, arts, humanities, and math. Leaving any of these elements out of the equation limits our future potential, yet all too often educational and cultural investments are narrowly defined and minimally funded. In order to avoid another emptied prairie era, it is time to invest in a more transformative infrastructure, and history gives us some good examples to emulate. DeWitt Clinton, a New York politician, played a lead role in the transportation and communications revolution of the early nineteenth century that would ultimately establish the state as both a cultural and economic powerhouse in the world. He championed the building of the Erie Canal, organized the New York – Historical Society, served as president of the American Academy of Fine Arts, supported mass literacy through public education, and secured the charter of the Saving Bank of New York, creating financial security for individuals and vital investment capital for business. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Daniel Walker Howe, “The infrastructure he worked to create would transform American life, enhancing economic opportunity, political participation, and intellectual awareness.” Clinton’s model for economic development in service of humanity serves as a powerful reminder that flourishing societies are primarily built upon human capital. That is where we should invest the most aggressively. Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt, Executive Director
features [contents] SENSE OF PLACE
2 Who Will I Be When Place Changes? By Ken Rogers
6 My Version of the Ghost Dance By Cecile Krimm
10 History of the Ghost Dance 16 The Chance to Stay Home
By Jessie Veeder Scofield
22 Nothing Will Change If Nothing Changes
By Kjersten Nelson
26 A Long Time Ago, They Saw Many Horses
By Dakota Goodhouse
30 The Dakota Project
By John Helgeland
PLAIN THINKING 36 God is Merciful: The Neighbors, Not So Much
By Karen Herzog
ON SECOND THOUGHT is published by the North Dakota Humanities Council. Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt, Editor Jan Daley Jury, Line Editor Dakota Goodhouse, Researcher This issue of On Second Thought magazine features North Dakota artist Michelle Lindblom. To learn more about Michelle Lindblom and her artwork visit mick-art.com To subscribe please contact us: North Dakota Humanities Council 418 E. Broadway, Suite 8 Bismarck, ND 58501 800-338-6543 email@example.com
Cover artwork: Eruption in the Hills by Michelle Lindblom (18x24 monotype), mick-art.com
Looking south on the Almont-to-Carson road in Morton County, 2011. Ken Rogers
[sense of place]
Who Will I Be When Place Changes?
By Ken Rogers
Spiritual Awakening IV by Michelle Lindblom, 24x18 monotype
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Why this place? Western North Dakota offers no easy life. Living must be scratched from its surface. The seasons can confound. Drought and blizzard test us time and time again. But living here, adapting to the cycle of life on the land, person and place merge. Memory and experience tell the story.
The clatter of cottonwood leaves in a warm breeze. A pale red plume of dust drifting behind a pickup on a scoria-topped road. The scratch of buck brush on the legs of jeans. A jab from the thorn of a wild plum tree. Each strand of experience like DNA, hardwiring a person into this place—the short-grass prairie of western North Dakota. While some people have a calling—to God, to Medicine—others are shaped more by the coming together of earth, sun and water, living plants and animals and spirit in a particular landscape. These people are defined by a sense of place. So life has been for me, living here.
The sound of those waxy cottonwood leaves brings to life walking the creek bottoms or drowsing on the screened porch of the house I grew up in beneath a line of old cottonwoods. The scoria roads lead to summer memories of driving out in the country to meet a farmer’s daughter or a camping trip in the Badlands. We have become steeped in experiences and memories of our lives dovetailed with fieldstone, shale, and the white alkaline dust left behind by the sun and wind on the rolling prairie. Sense of place becomes layered over years with an understanding of how life works here. Where the deer will lie down out of the storm. How following the coulees and draws will take you down to the creek. How in the morning calm, you know the wind will come. What farmers will be talking about when bringing grain to the local elevator. Or how to manage starting a car engine at 25 below zero. William Least Heat-Moon, in PrairyErth, took the Jeffersonian grid laid over Chase County, Kansas, like an archeologist’s string grid at a dig site, and scraped back the layers of people and place. The hard logic of the grid allowed Least Heat-Moon to inspect the intersection between people and place and how they change each other. The range, township, and section lines cannot push people and place into orderly boxes for study. Where the Norwegians settle overlaps with the Germans from Russian homesteads. Juneberries are best west of the Missouri River. The buttes are bigger, more imposing even farther west, where cattle are the bread and butter, not wheat. None of these follow the surveyor’s straight line.
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People living hard on the prairie have created for the land, and themselves, a particular, if not unique, sense of place. Medicine Rock, along the Cannon Ball River southeast of Elgin, North Dakota, juts out into the prairie. For hundreds of years, young men from the Mandan and Hidatsa nation came to the sandstone outcropping to watch the grassy horizon for the return of the buffalo. While waiting, they carved turtles, bison hooves, and bear claws into the soft stone. They sang. They prayed. Standing on that stone today the spirit of that place looms large. It draws spirit seekers who leave behind prayer bundles tied to bushes and the fence surrounding the stone. When beleaguered, we walk out on a high hill, along the river or to a rock or special place. Time and time again we return to tap something larger on the land than ourselves—its spirit and our relationship to that spirit. Looking for direction in this place, a person cannot rely on the typical map, or even Least Heat-Moon’s grid; they are only stepping-off points, beginnings. For direction in landscape where people and place have become one, a person must turn to poems,
Carvings on the Medicine Rock southeast of Elgin, 2011. Ken Rogers
Places, I think, are like churches. Over time, people praying and singing God’s praises there penetrate the plaster and wood with grace. And eventually people who enter the sanctuary can feel the sacred. When that church was newly blessed, it was little more than a building. Prayer made it a church, prayer over time made it sacred.
Time and time again, we return to tap something larger on the land than ourselves...
songs, and stories. These contain clues to living on and moving across the land. These are narrative maps recorded by the people, like those of the aborigines of Australia that Bruce Chatwin writes about in The Songline— songs that show the way. Listening to these geographic histories gives truer direction to a persona than a topographical map. Energy development has begun to rewrite the narrative map of western North Dakota, a place that has been slow to change. Oil rigs replace cottonwoods on the ridge line. A steady rumble from heavy trucks drowns out echo of the pounding hooves of the buffalo. New smells, sounds, sights are all around. Uncertainty swells in the sky above the sweeping prairie along the buttes. A thunderstorm, black as ink, black as oil, comes. To have a sense of place, and to have that place change, puts at risk connections made between people and the land over a long life. What happens to the spirit when peoples’ roots are yanked from the narrative? What happens to the song on the prairie when noise from machines overcomes the music? Who will I be when place changes?
Presently the opinion page editor for the Bismarck Tribune, Ken Rogers grew up in Hebron. He has been a working journalist in western North Dakota since 1976, and, over the years, developed an interest in the history of the people living here and of this place. He and his wife, Debi, live in Mandan.
michelle This issue of On Second Thought magazine features North Dakota artist Michelle Lindblom. To learn more about Michelle Lindblom and her artwork visit mick-art.com.
[sense of place]
My Version of the Ghost Dance By Cecile Krimm Here in North Dakota, it’s impossible to feel you truly own the land. Knowing how it came to be in the hands of Norwegians and German settlers in the first place is part of it—a sense that what came out of the hardship of one people can’t help but come home to roost for those who replaced the natives. Learning many years ago of the Lakota ghost dancers who hoped to bring back the buffalo, I couldn’t help but wince at the futility of such an endeavor and yet, even then, I understood loving a place and a way of life so fiercely you could wish for magic to keep it intact. That’s why there’s a certain sense of payback to the spoiling of land and society in the Bakken oil field. We can look today with a shake of the head at the decimation of American bison herds in the late 1800s and see the foolhardiness of exploiting that resource nearly to extinction. How much more foolhardy are we now, risking the water and land our homesteading forefathers tamed into one of the most productive breadbaskets in the world, for gas and oil? Having owned and long ago sold any personal claim to the minerals beneath the surface of the state, I can stand proudly—if poorly—to declare I have nothing to gain from oil. As much as it hurts now to know that I stupidly sold my claim as a twenty-two-year-old “starving” for a new car, I nonetheless am just a little glad I can see this boom—the good and the bad of it—without the added influence of a padded bank account.
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I wish the bureaucrats in Bismarck could. As a whole, we people of North Dakota will have to come to terms with what we’re willing to sacrifice for this embarrassment of riches we currently enjoy. Looking at how we’ve handled things so far, it might appear we’re willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, charge her rent for the use of the yard, and claim a royalty on the soap. It’s time for the state to declare northwestern North Dakota nothing less than an economic disaster area—not for lack of jobs or low wages—but due to a societal disease characterized by skyrocketing rents, an inadequate labor pool, and the complete overwhelming of existing public infrastructure.
Delicate Balance by Michelle Lindblom 24x18 monotype
Would I feel differently if I were sharing in the wealth? Perhaps.But there would be no disputing oil has forever changed our landscape. What is just as alarming, and more immediate, however, are the human costs that are occurring in the state right this minute—never mind the longer range potential for change to our rural society, pristine environment, and agricultural tradition. This is not about wanting to go back to the way things used to be, but about the government taking steps to ensure basic public safety. It may sound exciting to the bean counters in Bismarck to talk about another 3,600 workers coming online this winter, but from my vantage point, it’s a little like telling Minot they better prepare for a bigger flood than the one that swallowed 4,000 homes last year. They talk about flooding the region with an additional population equivalent to the current populations of Burke and Divide Counties combined as if it’s a cause for celebration. A group called Prairie Opportunity attempted to do just that a few years ago in what seemed to be a ludicrous
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proposition: to attract “the right 5,000 people” to the area. Their hope has been so far surpassed today that human waste is being poured onto fields as fertilizer because all of the sewage lagoons are full.
Tell it to the terminal cancer patient living in a camper during a North Dakota winter, or to the family of a woman who died of asphyxiation in a camper because no affordable housing is available in the oil patch.
We’ve got the right 5,000 people, all right, and more! But along with those good, hardworking folk, we have also attracted people bent on crime, some who are blind to the potential for environmental damage, and many more concerned only with making the quickest buck.
Tell it to the mother of a teenager involved in an accident with a semi-truck hauling sand or water or oil. Tell it to the mother of three who was run off the road twice in two days by semis traveling too fast to slow down while passing through a small town like Crosby.
We cannot take anymore.
Tell it to the guy having a heart attack in a room in a man camp that emergency personnel cannot find in time.
Our ambulance crews cannot take anymore.
Our lagoons cannot take anymore.
How many people have to die? How many people have to lose their homes? When do the societal impacts of the oil boom move beyond tough-luck stories we share with our friends and neighbors in increasingly more common gripe sessions, and rise to the level of a public crisis?
Our roads cannot take anymore.
We are already there and have been for some time.
Our stores and restaurants cannot take anymore.
A publication summarizing the Western North Dakota Energy Impact Symposia, based on anecdotal information collected in the summer of 2011 from people all over the oil patch, confirmed it.
Our police cannot take anymore. Our water systems cannot take anymore.
Our rural society, after many long years of decline, doesn’t have the framework to absorb so many people so fast. Only an irresponsible state government would allow more people to be added in a region where the health and well-being of every single citizen is already in jeopardy because of inadequate infrastructure and overtaxed emergency services. To continue to allow such expansion, unchecked, is to put people’s lives even more at risk. Too dramatic for you? Tell it to the eighty-five-year-olds who are being forced from their long-term rental homes in Williston so landlords can rake in ridiculously high rents from newcomers—$2,000, $3,000 or $4,000 per month for a two- or three-bedroom place.
According to the report, 64 percent of those polled last summer said the government is not responding appropriately to the rapid energy development. Nearly a third said they support more regulations and enforcement of some kind. When do the powers-that-be take a look around and decide quality of life has some value, too? Quality of life used to be our ace in the hole, that intangible something we told ourselves no one else had and everyone wanted. Well, guess what? Quality of life got lost somewhere on the way to an oil boom.
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I understood loving a place and a way of life so fiercely you could wish for magic to keep it intact. There are those who will say they would love to have the problems we have with our two percent unemployment and high-wage jobs. They have no idea. Motorhome cities, camps set up to house a disproportionate amount of single men, and homeless people using Walmart as their home base is not my idea of progress. Nor are stores that appear ransacked, restaurants that are shuttered for lack of workers, or roads that rival the potholes we used to complain of every time we visited Canada. Everything comes at a cost. We are losing not only our aged—the very people who built our communities— but people of all ages and occupations outside of the oil industry because they can’t afford any more of this “prosperity.” When the oil is gone, those who were displaced are unlikely to return. The place they once called home will no longer exist. A way of life will have disappeared. All the while, the oil man talks about being a “good neighbor”—the glass beads of yore having been replaced with all manner of truck—from duffel bags emblazoned with company logos to i-Pod speakers and pitchfork fondue suppers. They move this “rendezvous” called the “Oil Can! Cookfest” to a different town each summer, hoping to create good will out of tchotchkes and chili the way fur traders offered mirrors and blankets for pelts. Lamenting the current state, I feel a little like those ghost dancers. I understand the futility of my word dance in the face of an unstoppable wave of change. Yet, I write, hoping it’s not too late to retrieve some semblance of order, public safety, and economic balance in the oil patch.
Cecile (Wehrman) Krimm has been reporting the news in North Dakota since 1985, winning numerous awards from state and national organizations for investigative, government, and feature reporting on television and in newspapers. She has been the editor of The Journal of Crosby, North Dakota, since 1999 and also edits The Tioga Tribune in Tioga. Her first book, The Brothers Krimm, was published last year, about a serial bank robber who plagued the Dakotas until his death in 2009.
History of the Ghost Dance The origin of the Ghost Dance stemmed from the introduction of Christianity to the native people of the Northwest, specifically the Shaker Movement, in which Christians prayed and danced for the Second Appearance of Jesus Christ. In October 1881, a Squaxin Indian man, known locally as John Slocum and living on the southwestern arm of Puget Sound, knelt down in the woods to pray about the evils in his life. Slocum reflected about the impacts that hard liquor, gambling, idleness, and general vice had on his life and the life of his people. Slocum took ill and by all accounts died. Later in the day Slocum revived and told everyone of his journey to heaven, where he was given a choice: either go to hell or return to the world and minister to his people. He chose to live again. Slocumâ€™s shaker ministry quickly spread to the native population in the Northwest, causing some unease among settlers because the Indian shakers had their own priests and built their own churches. The
Presbyterian ministers actively sought to include the Indian shakers in the body of the Presbyterian Church. The Indian shakers became well known for visiting the shut-in and sick over whom they prayed themselves into a trance. A ritual followed the trance in which the sickness was pulled out of the patient and absorbed by the priest/medicine man who fell down dead and the patient recovered. James Mooney, author of The Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee, collected the story of two shaker medicine men venturing south into central Oregon to apprentice a young Indian man of the tribes there, whom Mooney postulates could be none other than Wovoka, The Cutter.
Ghost Dancers. State Historical Society of North Dakota C0256
Wovoka was the son of a highly respected medicine man or prophet of the Indian people in Mason Valley, called Tavibo. Tavibo died about 1870, leaving a fourteen-year-old son Wovoka. Wovoka came into the employment of David Wilson and was given the Anglo name, Jack Wilson. David Wilson employed Wovoka until about 1886, when Wovoka decided it was time to share his experience of heaven and the message he received.
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During the solar eclipse of August 1868, Wovoka had fallen asleep and was taken up to heaven. There he saw all the people who had already departed and he met with God. Wovoka received the mission to go back to his people and tell them, â€œThey must be good and love one another, have no quarrelling, and live in peace with the whites; that they must work, and not lie or steal; that they must put away the old practices that savored of war; that if they faithfully obeyed his instructions they would at last be reunited with their friends in this other world, where there would be no more death or sickness or old age.â€? Wovoka was given a dance to take to the Indian peoples, a dance which must be performed for five consecutive days. Mooney, who interviewed Wovoka when he made a study of the Ghost Dance religion from December 1890 to April 1891, said that Wovoka disclaimed responsibility and association with the Ghost Dance shirt which had become an important part of the Sioux Ghost Dance. In fact, Wovoka asserted to Mooney, that it was â€œbetter to follow the white
...the messiah was there, but he had come to help the Indians and not the whites...
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man’s road, and to adopt the habits of civilization,” and that his religion or practices were ones of universal peace. Wovoka had gone to live among the Paiute Indians of Utah and spread his message and vision. From there his message spread east to the Northern Arapaho and Shoshoni of Wyoming, then on to the Lakota and Cheyenne. A few of the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan became caught up in the news from Fort Washakie, Wyoming. In the fall of 1889, three principal delegates—Porcupine (a Northern Cheyenne from Montana), Kicking Bear (Mniconjou Lakota, Cheyenne River Agency, South Dakota) and Short Bull (Sicangu Lakota, Rosebud Agency, South Dakota)—made a pilgrimage to Fort Washakie to hear about the Ghost Dance for themselves. The Ogallala Lakota, Sword, had this to say, “In 1889, the Ogalala [sic] heard that the son of God had come upon earth in the west. They said the messiah was there, but he had come to help the Indians and not the whites, and it made the Indians happy to hear this.” Porcupine, Kicking Bear, and Short Bull didn’t stop at Fort Washakie but continued on to Pyramid Lake to witness the Ghost Dance performed there. According to Porcupine, they were treated with kindness by the whites as they journeyed to the lake, and that even the whites participated in the Ghost Dance.
Sitting Bull’s Ghost Dance. State Historical Society of North Dakota 1952-5831
From Pyramid Lake, the delegation traveled to Walker Lake where Wovoka himself led a Ghost Dance. After the dance there, Wovoka entered into a trance. According to Porcupine, Wovoka awoke and proclaimed to all that he went to heaven, saw all those who had died before, and that he had been sent back to instruct the native people. Porcupine essayed further that Wovoka claimed to be the returned Christ, that the dead would be resurrected, the Indian people would live forever; that there would be universal peace, and death and destruction to those who refused his message. The delegation returned to their agencies. In October 1890, Kicking Bear introduced the Ghost Dance to Standing Rock at Sitting Bull’s invitation to perform the dance at his camp along the Grand River. The Indian Agent, Major James McLaughlin, dispatched the Indian police to arrest Kicking Bear, but they returned to the agent’s office unsuccessful. Sitting Bull promised McLaughlin that Kicking Bear would leave when he was finished, which he did after two days. Sitting Bull did not discourage the Ghost Dance on Standing Rock, and on the Cheyenne River reservation, the Indian police couldn’t stop Big Foot’s band from dancing. It is important to remember that the Ghost Dance controversy was coming to a head on the heels of North and South Dakota achieving statehood. Indian reservations were made smaller. Hunting grounds were being settled and turned into farmland. Traditional and culturally significant landmarks were given over to citizens for farming or ranching. Drought had caused native farmers’ crops to fail two years in a row, and those who received government-issued rations received a third to a half of what was promised by treaty. People were nearly starving. It was a desperate time and the native peoples clung to a desperate faith. General Miles, of Civil War fame and the capture of Indian leaders like Chief Joseph and Geronimo, advised that no additional military force was necessary; to let the Ghost Dance run its course; that “the excitement would die out of itself.” Indian agents at Lakota Sioux agencies
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became increasingly alarmed because they could not stop the dancing.
Ina, hekuwo; inahekuwo. Misunkalaceyayaomniye, Misunkalaceyayaomniye. Ina, hekuwo; inahekuwo. Mother, come home; mother, come home. My little brother is crying as he goes about. My little brother is crying as he goes about. Mother, come home; mother, come home.
Ethereal Being by Michelle Lindblom 24x18 monotype
A young woman entered the Ghost Dance and fell into a trance, there she saw her deceased mother. Upon waking from Ghost Dance she desperately implored her mother to come back to them again. Her younger brother hadn’t recovered from losing their mother and cried ever after.
On October 31, 1890, Short Bull rounded up his Ghost Dance followers and encouraged them to gather in one place and prepare for the coming of the messiah, even if they were surrounded by troops, even if they were fired upon. The Lakota who participated in the Ghost Dance firmly believed that their Ghost Dance shirts made them impervious to bullets; that the bullets would pass through them without causing injury. On November 17, 1890, soldiers were ordered to report throughout the Indian agencies at Cheyenne River, Lower Brule, Rosebud, and Pine Ridge, under the field command of General Miles, altogether about 3,000 soldiers. No action was needed as the mere presence of soldiers was enough to dissuade dancers from dancing. John Noble, Secretary of the Interior, immediately ordered full rations to be distributed according to treaty. The Department of War assumed control of Standing Rock and made plans to arrest Sitting Bull. To convince Sitting Bull that his cooperation was necessary, former U.S. Military Scout William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, was sent to persuade Sitting Bull to turn himself in. Cody arrived at Fort Yates on November 28, 1890, but his orders to continue to Sitting Bull’s camp were halted by Agent McLaughlin. According to Mooney, Agent McLaughlin believed that a conflict would follow if the military were to arrest Sitting Bull. The military arrest was delayed on the advice of McLaughlin who told Cody that he’d send Indian police, which he did on December 14, 1890. The next morning Lieutenant Bull Head led the attempt to arrest Sitting Bull. The effort ended in disaster with the death of Sitting Bull and seven of his followers, and the death of Bull Head and seven of his police officers.
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He sits at the kitchen table as I fill up his coffee cup, his overshoes dripping mud on the linoleum floor, wool cap pushed up off of his ears, his neckerchief loosened. It’s a beautiful morning in western North Dakota, and my father has been outside moving hay bales from the fields to the barn in a tractor that has been used for the same type of work year after year for as long as I can remember. We talk about the weather as he stands up and looks out the kitchen window that faces the red barn and the corrals below the house. I imagine him having done this a million times before as a young man growing up in this house.
My father returned with that education, first in the early 1980s when he was twenty-seven with a wife and two children, when his father was still alive. He bought some land down the road and put in a house, took a construction job and helped his father run cattle. But it wasn’t enough. A lump hits his throat each time he talks about the day he had to pack us up and move to eastern North Dakota where there was a living waiting for my mother and him.
But he’s a guest in this house now, having moved away from the 3,000 acres of ranchland on the edge of the Badlands in North Dakota when he was eighteen to grab that education his father made him vow to get. An education that would help ensure there were other ways to make a living besides ranching.
The Chance to STAY HOME By Jessie Veeder Scofield
A pumping unit in McKenzie County. Jessie Veeder Scofield Gene Veeder on an autumn ride through the pastures of the nearly 100-year-old family ranch he manages. Jessie Veeder Scofield
“It was the worst day of my life,” he recalls. “Saying goodbye to my parents, giving up on the idea of living here and raising my family. I can’t imagine what it was like for them to wave goodbye to their grandchildren, not knowing if there was a chance we would ever come back.” Five years later, after his father died, we were back at the ranch and here to stay. I was six years old, and just as this landscape was in my father’s heart, it was also in mine. I would sit next to him in the pickup on cold winter evenings feeding cattle in the dark after he got home from his job in Watford City thirty miles away, and I would ride horse next to him and my grandmother on warm summer evenings moving cattle from one pasture to the next. I couldn’t imagine another life. I vowed I would live here forever. But as a young child I had no idea what it meant to take on the responsibility of being the fourth generation on my family’s nearly 100-year-old homestead. And no one could foresee how different my experience would be from my father’s, moving back home at twenty-seven. I fill his coffee cup again as we sit in the house where he grew up, where his parents lived their lives. My house.
[sense of place] Yes, I moved back here a year ago after making the same promise to my father that he made to his. It was always my dream, but I am reminded every day of the changes that had to occur to make that dream come true. I am reminded when my husband pulls on his boots and leaves our yard before the sun comes up to get to his job, maximizing the production of the oil wells that now dot the landscape. And we are reminded this morning as the rumble of trucks driving back and forth from the three oil rigs behind this old house replaces the silence that once was the backdrop of the landscape.
“It seemed like everything was happening every place else in the world.”
But some things have stayed the same, like the big oak tree where I married my husband; the pink road that leads to our house; that red tractor and my father’s deepseated commitment to his home and community.
that is equal parts thrilling and challenging. Each day he gets dozens of calls from people from all over the country looking to start a new business, relocate to the county, pick up an industry job, or develop a property into a motel, an apartment complex, a restaurant, or a daycare facility. Many of those voices on the other end of the line are coming from desperate situations, situations where they have lost jobs, development has ceased, and houses have been foreclosed. Many people drive to Watford City on a hope that they can meet with someone like Gene Veeder who will help them find a new direction or a new opportunity. But in a town like Watford City that has grown from 1,400 residents to an estimated 6,000 in just five years, the answers aren’t black and white.
The latter is true because the same man who taught me how to ride a horse and fix a fence hangs up his cowboy hat each morning to step into the role of director of economic development in McKenzie County, the largest county in the state with major play in the oil activity in western North Dakota. And although Gene Veeder, my father, has been in this position for nearly twenty years, nothing could have prepared him for the changes that would occur due to new technology that allows oil to be extracted from the Bakken Reservoir 10,000 feet below the surface of the land—the land his community has been built upon. In his role, he has become the go-to contact for direction on tough matters needing solutions. With a current count of 50 oil rigs in McKenzie County alone, each creating 120 direct and indirect jobs, he works with his board of five county commissioners, along with members of the city council, to examine the repercussions and impacts this booming industry has on the community. It’s difficult to explain what this means to a man who, just ten years ago, was working diligently to come up with innovative plans to help recruit new businesses and residents to a county with 2,861 square miles and only 6,000 people—the same amount of people as there are new oil-related job opportunities today. “I was here when it seemed like nothing was going to happen. It seemed like everything was happening every place else in the world,” he said. “For someone in my position, this is one of the most exciting things you could ask for.” “Exciting” is my father’s optimistic synonym for a task
The growth stems from an industry that is moving at an unprecedented pace and the most immediate solutions simply are not immediate enough. Housing, and the infrastructure that supports it, are two of the biggest challenges at the helm of McKenzie County’s vision for a community that one day will not be solely dependent on one industry for prosperity. And so it starts there. In order to grow and maintain a population you must have adequate accommodations that begin with permanent housing and continue with quality school systems, healthcare, and service industries, all which are being stretched to their limits as people flock from all over the country for work and opportunity. With a serious concern about preventing landlords from taking advantage of incoming workers and an equal concern about current, non-oilfield workers being priced out of their homes, he is in constant contact with housing developers every day. His hope is that more projects like the newly completed 1,000unit housing development will come to fruition. He is currently talking with two such developers and he
Jessie Veeder Scofield at home in western North Dakota.
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keeps his finger on the pulse of progress with an end goal of adequate permanent housing plans to help entice development of retail and service businesses and school and healthcare system expansion—major leaps that will keep new and existing residents here for the long term. “Right now, there are growing pains. There are frustrations. I feel them too.” I hear my father say this every day. Then I see him tap his fingers on his desk and ask that people not give up on their community based on the last five years of change.
frustrate people more than anything,” he observes. And he lives it, driving thirty miles to town one way every day. It’s an issue that community leaders like my father had in their line of sight ten years ago when they began the Highway 85 expansion project known as the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway that would turn the highway from two-lane traffic to four-lane all the way from Canada to Texas. They had a vision for growth before they could see it coming down the road.
Change like the constant oil field-related traffic that wears down county roads and state highways, kicking up dust near farmsteads, and altering the way local people have grown accustomed to traveling.
“It is evident now that we were on the right path,” he says of his community’s involvement with the highway expansion. “Now it is about building and maintaining and getting those wells on pipelines to help ease the traffic.”
“The traffic, getting in and out of the community and moving around within the community, seems to
The county leaders had a similar vision for the water supply, another important pillar of infrastructure in a
[sense of place] boomtown. As the community recognized the strain oil development has on groundwater usage, they invested in a water system that would provide rural farm and ranching residents with quality water by selling a portion of the supply to oil companies. It’s a move that ensured their investment would serve other commercial needs as well as the new residential developments and help provide an attraction for new businesses when oil activity slows down. It was an innovative plan, one that has spent years in development but couldn’t be more timely. Time. It is taking on a new meaning here where life, just a few years ago, had a different pace, where questions had a few moments to be answered, and most nights my father got home from town before the sun sunk below the buttes. But McKenzie County is no stranger to the oil industry and to the pace it demands. This year the county will be celebrating its sixtieth year of oil activity and its county seat isn’t even 100 years old. Many long-time residents have had their hand in the industry at one point or another in their lifetime. Some have stories about finishing high school or returning home from college and working in the oil fields in the 1970s, moving up in the industry, making their place, seeing it through the rough times, and coming out on the other side as leaders and veterans of the industry.
Yet, we can’t help but hear the whispers and wonder about the pace, the gravel trucks, and rumors of booming businesses and new roads: What is going to happen when its slows down and the drilling moves on? Who will stay? What will become of this? Will we be able to afford to stay? I talk about this with my father, back in his cowboy hat, when he stops over on Sunday mornings. I talk about our plans for the family’s ranch, how we would like to run our own cattle someday, how we would like to keep the landscape vital and raise a family in agriculture, community, and oil. We talk about what his parents would say if they were living today, if they could have had a little help from the minerals below the ground to pay off that tractor, to build a new fence, to fix up the barn. What would they say about the sound of the trucks rolling over the hills? What would they say as another well goes up near their land? Would they go visit a neighbor to hear how their son is doing now that he has moved home? Would they go to church and marvel at how the pews are a little more full and then come home to lunch and a Sunday afternoon ride through the fields that are still theirs, the land they can still call home? I don’t know. And I don’t know how our story will turn out in the end. But I do know this. I am home and it is Main Street Watford City. Jessie Veeder Scofield
The veterans of the oil industry were like the ranchers and farmers in this area today, working to exist and tend to their land while the search for oil below their wheat fields and pastures carries on around them. During rough times—times when cattle prices were low, or the rain didn’t fall—some of those landowners have taken a second job driving truck or pumping for oil to make ends meet, to pay off some debt, to get their kids through college.
And now, here we are again on the same landscape my great-grandfather settled almost 100 years ago and my generation is given the opportunity to come home to family ranches and a home that has, miraculously, stood up to the test of time. We’ve come back to live next door to our parents and have a hand in building up a now prosperous community that showed little signs of hope when we left it ten, twelve, twenty years ago.
Gene Veeder. Jessie Veeder Scofield
“...there was a time not too long ago that I didn’t think anyone was going to be able to live back here.”
very likely that without my husband’s work in the oil industry, I would not be writing these words. And, without the sacrifices my family made to keep the ranch in our family, we might find ourselves in similar situations as those people on the other end of my father’s phone line. So I am grateful I have the opportunity now to ask the right questions and to have a hand in the leadership that is working on a long-range plan for the community where I want to raise my children—a plan that includes using an industry that has a presence in the community to help preserve a quality of life that includes wellmaintained highways, safe water for our homes, thriving school systems, and quality medical services. If we keep these as our foundation, no matter what happens in an industry that is touching all of our lives out here in many ways, we will remain vital for years to come. My father pulls down his wool cap and I grab my coat. My husband is home from work now and we are going out to check on things, to ride our horses to the top of the hills, to see if there is any fence that needs fixing. . . see if they’ve started on that pipeline. As we step out the door, my father pauses for a minute, takes in a deep breath and looks around. “You know, there was a time not too long ago that I didn’t think anyone was going to be able to live back here. It was so quiet,” he says, as he steps off the porch. “I’m glad you’re home.”
Jessie Veeder Scofield is a singer, songwriter, photographer and writer who lives and works on her family’s 3,000-acre cattle ranch in western North Dakota with her husband Chad. She keeps a record of ranch life on her popular blog, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch...”, provides regular commentary on Prairie Public Radio’s program “Hear it Now,” and performs her original music throughout the Midwest. Visit veederranch.com for more information.
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In 1893, Laura Eisenhuth was elected as North Dakota’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. There be may very little of note about this particular seat in this particular year except for one thing—Ms. Eisenhuth became the first female elected to a statewide office in the United States. Almost twenty years before women even earned a constitutional right to vote, Ms. Eisenhuth broke the barrier of statewide elected office for American women. In 1933, another North Dakota legislator, Minnie Craig, was elected as the first female Speaker of the House in the country. Gains came in other elective offices as well. By the late 1970s, North Dakota ranked 11 out of 50 states in terms of the proportion of the state legislature that was female. Granted, the number of women in the legislature was a mere 13 percent, but compared to other states, North Dakota was notable. Within the legislature, women were reaching new leadership heights. During her tenure in the early 1980s, Representative Tish Kelly was the only female Speaker of the House in the country. North Dakota appeared poised to be a leader in women’s representation.
Nothing Will CHANGE If Nothing Changes By Kjersten Nelson
Unfortunately, those gains slowed significantly. By the early 1980s, the state’s rank dropped to twenty-ninth; by 2003, we were ranked forty-fourth, where we have largely remained. As of 2011, North Dakota ranks forty-fifth in the nation for women in the state legislature. Perhaps more striking is that the actual percentage—14.9 percent—is not much higher than the percentage in 1977 (12.4 percent). While the numbers fluctuated within this time period, women have lost ground in the state legislature. It is helpful to place North Dakota’s underrepresentation problem in a larger context. The United States, as a whole, has seen sudden gains in terms of women’s representation, often followed by stagnation or losses. Typically considered a response to the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas hearings, women flooded congressional races in 1992. The number of women in the United States Congress jumped from 32 in the 102nd Congress to 54 the following year. There was no corresponding jump in North Dakota during this time; in fact, this is precisely the point where the state’s ranking started to drop. The same cannot be said for our neighboring states. Minnesota currently ranks fifth in the nation for the proportion of women in its state legislature (31 percent). Montana is twenty-third in the nation (24 percent), and South Dakota is twenty-seventh (20 percent). To be sure, this representation problem exists elsewhere. Women make up a little over 50 percent of the population but only occupy 41 percent of the seats in Colorado’s state legislature (which ranks first). As a country, we rank seventy-first in the world, far behind other countries like Rwanda (first) and Canada (thirty-ninth). Nevertheless, in a context of underrepresentation of women, 22
North Dakota falls within the bottom 10 percent. Talking about this underrepresentation as a problem, in and of itself, contradicts many of our current beliefs about the way things should be. Many of us have internalized egalitarian beliefs about gender. The logical extension of these egalitarian beliefs is that gender should not matter. In other words, male or female, leadership is about the individual, not the social groups with which that person identifies. In a perfect world, this might be true. However, the reality is that gender socializes us in important ways. Psychologists have found that
Circus Dialogue by Michelle Lindblom, 24x18 monotype
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when children are babies, daughters are more quickly warned to “be careful” than are sons. Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson reports that girls tend to get praised for completing tasks well, while boys tend to get rewarded for “trying hard.” This adds to other social messages that encourage boys to be risk takers. In a recent study, North Dakota State University student Maia Randklev finds that middle school health text books continue to send boys and girls different messages about sex: boys are encouraged to “wait to have sex,” while girls are told “to wait until after marriage.” More generally, studies document that up until middle school, boys and girls experience similar levels of self-confidence; in middle school, however, girls’ self-confidence drops precipitously. The fact is that gendered messages might socialize us to think differently about what leadership should look like and what kinds of problems are important for our society to address. Research on leaders—both business and political —suggests that women tend to have a more collaborative approach, focusing on things like consensus-building. Given the rancorous state of our politics, many Americans might welcome this focus. Other studies have found that, once elected, women tend to focus on different areas of policy. Political scientist Michele Swers finds that Democratic and moderate Republican women are more likely to introduce legislation in the United 23
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One of the great things about ND politics is that we have a CITIZEN legislature...
States Congress regarding issues like domestic violence, reproductive rights, and child care. While these types of issues are typically framed as “women’s issues,” they are issues that affect all of us in our homes and our communities. Perhaps Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly (Connecticut) sums it up best when she says, “Women have a different perspective and you need women to be in the room to make sure it is heard.” There is little that stands in the way, legally, of women being fully involved in politics. And in some respects, they are. Women vote at equal or higher rates than men, fight for issues, organize, and discuss politics. Something happens, though, when it comes to running for office. It’s not that people won’t vote for them. That used to be the case. But currently, when women run, women win at rates equal to men. So what is going on? One early explanation centered on the idea of a “pipeline”—that is, for men, certain professions tend to feed into politics; law and business being the largest contributors. There was great hope that as more women entered these professions, they would also start to move towards politics in equal proportions. This expectation, however, was not realized. Scholars then turned their attention to more personal factors that may influence women’s participation. Women continue to bear the weight of responsibility for child care and housework. Serving in the legislature means weeks away from home, not to mention the grueling campaign schedule that leads up to it. The research has found that one impact of this reality is that women who run tend to do so later in life, after their children have grown. Family responsibilities, then, are part of the story but cannot explain the dearth of female candidates. Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, two political scientists, identified a sample of men and women who were professionals in those careers that most often contribute candidates for public office. Through surveys and interviews, they discovered that women tend to underestimate their abilities. If you could find a man and woman who were identical in terms of their qualifications and experience, it is far more likely that the man would say he was qualified to hold office while the woman would not. Subsequently, women were also more likely to say that the anticipated negativity of a campaign was enough to dissuade them from running—women were more likely to doubt that they had “thick enough skin” to endure a political campaign.
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Finally, Fox and Lawless also find that one of the major reasons that women don’t run is because nobody asks! This is true of friends, family members, colleagues, but, most relevantly, party officials. Between the genders, men were more likely to report that someone had asked them to consider running for office. As elected women I have spoken with explained, they needed someone to ask—again and again—for this career path to even start seeming like a possibility. Women’s underrepresentation in elected office is a complex issue. It appears to be an imperfectly understood nexus of personal, sociological, and psychological factors. The good news is that this research also suggests some obvious steps in recruiting more women and systematically bringing this perspective more prominently into the legislative arena. The first suggestion is one that I have recently tried to incorporate more into my own life—that is, when we see impressive women doing impressive things, we can ask them if they have ever considered running for office. I have started doing this with my students. For some, this is clearly the first time they thought about running. But one female student stands out in my mind—when I asked if she had ever considered running for office, her face lit up. She poured forth the issues she was interested in. I like to think that this suggestion added legitimacy to her personal goals—someone else recognized that she had this potential. And remember, there really is no risk in asking others to consider this. The worst they do is say no. Even when they say no, it is possible you have planted a seed. Parties—or well-positioned individuals within the parties—also need to make this a priority. Minnesota offers a prime example of how this might work. Now one of the exemplars of women’s representation, the state had been miserable in the rankings. At one point, though, a well-placed woman in the DFL headed up a candidaterecruitment committee that only recruited female candidates. Without that woman’s willingness to take a stance and use her institutional power, it is unclear where Minnesota would stand today. To address the lack of confidence, the North Dakota Women’s Network (NDWN) is sponsoring several sessions of Ready to Run, a day-long conference that brings together potential candidates with accomplished female candidates and campaign experts. The seminar provides nuts-and-bolts information about running for office but, perhaps more importantly, provides a connection with women who have succeeded in electoral politics. I have heard from more than one female elected official that they pursued their position because they had a group of dedicated, female volunteers who believed in them and stood behind them all the way. While women can build up these networks on their own, organizations like NDWN can help facilitate this community-building. Another way that nonprofit organizations can help women overcome this lack of confidence is by putting women in contact with current elected legislators as much as possible. One of the great things about North Dakota politics is that we have a citizen legislature—the purest form of democracy, where ordinary citizens head to Bismarck to represent North Dakotans. Non-profits can help break down this feeling that legislators are inaccessible or threatening by bringing ordinary women into contact with legislators as often as possible. There is no one recipe for what got our representatives there. There is a diversity of educations, careers, and personal backgrounds. The more women interact with legislators, the more women will realize: I can do this. In sum, the issue of women’s underrepresentation is a complicated one with personal, psychological, and sociological factors contributing to this outcome. As with most complicated social issues, though, change can—and must—start with us. So, how about you? Ever thought about running for office…?
Kjersten Nelson is an assistant professor of political science at North Dakota State University. Her research focuses on women’s involvement in politics and citizen perceptions of those women. She lives in Fargo with her family.
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The Dakota-Lakota people have many story variations of the horse and its arrival on the Northern Plains. All of the stories relate the respect for the mystery of creation and all its unrevealed sacred gifts for humanity. That respect for the horse and the connection that the Lakota felt for it is reflected in the names for this first encounter, such as Elk-Dog, Holy Dog, Spirit Dog, or Mysterious Dog. In Dakota or Lakota, the word for dog is simply Sunka (to be a dog; pronounced shoonKAH). Previously, the Dakota-Lakota had no word for horse, and at first sight, probably said something like Le anpetu kin sunka wan lilawakancawawayankewelo, meaning, “This day, a dog was very powerful and I saw it.” Mary Louise Defender-Wilson, Wagmuhawin (Gourd Woman), a traditional storyteller of the Ihanktowana Dakota (Yanktonai), and enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, shares the story of the horse and its arrival on the Makoche album, My Relatives Say: Traditional Dakotah Stories as Told by Mary Louise Defender-Wilson. 26
According to Defender-Wilson, a long time ago, there were two men who went out hunting along the Mnisose (Missouri River). They called the river Mnisose (pronounced MihNEE shoh-shay; Mni meaning “Water,” sose meaning “Roiling,” “A-stir,” or “Swirling). Think of stirring a cup of coffee after you’ve added cream. These two hunters followed the course of Mnisose and noticed that a great swirl began to appear in the river. As they stood transfixed watching the swirl grow, a violent thunderstorm suddenly manifested itself about them. The two hunters kept as much out of the way of the storm as anyone caught in the rain could, but they trained their eyes on the swirl in the river. As they stood watching the churning water, a bolt of lightning struck it. From the middle of the swirl appeared what looked like a head with a long face. As this head with a long face followed the swirl about in circles, a long neck was revealed as the head and face were lifted out of the water, then a great body, like that of an elk. This creature fought againt the current of the swirl, broke free of it, and swam for the shore where the hunters stood watching. The creature ascended the bank of the Mnisose, shook itself, and walked into the grasses where it began to graze. The hunters knew then it was similar to the bison, elk, and deer. Curious about the creature, the hunters watched it for a while and then decided to approach it, but as they neared it, it ran away. As close as hunters were able to get to the creature, they noticed that it had a little one with it, which was just as skittish as the mother.
Photo courtesy of the Nokota® Horse Conservancy. Shelly Hauge
The Missouri River has a fixed place in the history and mythology of the Plains Indians. For the Lakota Sioux, the Missouri River and many of its tributaries serve as boundaries for ancestral territories, territories which were considered by many tribes over the course of centuries as in dispute or contested. Sometimes a great event occurred that transcended cultural boundaries, from catastrophic floods and deadly blizzards to fiery aurora and torrential star falls. Another one of these great events is the arrival of the horse on the Missouri River.
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A Long Time Ago, They Saw Many Horses By Dakota Goodhouse
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The hunters thought that the creature and its little one were somewhat like the other four-leggeds, wild and wary of people, but also unlike deer, elk, moose, and bison. The hunters and the creatures knew there was a connection between the other. The hunters went back to their people and told them of the grace and strength of this new creature and its awareness of the connection to them. They talked amongst themselves about the nature of the creatures seeming domesticated nature and its purpose in the natural world. The people eventually came to the conclusion that the creature was sent to help the people in hunting, traveling, and moving. The people met amongst themselves some more about how best to approach and appropriate this new creature in village life. They finally involved the village singers to compose a song of invitation to the creature and its little one, because they didn’t want to capture them and force them into a new life. The people believed this new creature was sent to them to ease their burdens, like the sunka. In those long ago days, the “dog days” as the elders call them, dogs helped the women haul things like firewood or personal belongings on a sun’onkunpa (a dog-drag, or dog travois; pronounced shoon OHNK oon-PAH) alongside the men or women as they also hauled their belongings on wanjiksila (a one-person travois; pronounced wahn-ZEEK-shee-LAH). The dogs served as guard dogs, especially as watchdogs over children, for in those days enemy tribes used to steal children, even as the Teton used to take children from the enemy. The singers composed and sang the first horse songs to tame them, and they brought them into village life. As the horse adjusted to life among the people, it began to help them. The people learned to fashion saddles, bridles, and sunun’k’onpa (a pony-drag, or travois; pronounced shoon-OON’k’ohn-pah). The dog days ended. The days of the Plains Indian horse culture began. Defender-Wilson tells the story with the lesson of respect for all of the gifts of the Creator, old and new. 28
The John K. Bear Wintercount, an Ihanktowana (Yanktonai) who provides a pictographic record of the history of that tribe, tells us when the horse arrived. Waniyetu ehani, Sung noni ota kin, translated to mean, “There were many wild horses this year.” Counting back from key entries which are correlated to major events like smallpox, war, or astronomical events, this particular reference to horses is the earliest date at 1692. In 1692, the Ihanktowana Dakota were living in earthlodge villages, not unlike the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan Indians, along the Cansansan Wakpa (Whitewood River; pronounced chahn-SAHn-sahn wahk-PAH), known today as the James River. Where the Cansansan Wakpa and Mnisose converge was a favorite wintering site of the Ihanktowana. It is this author’s conjecture that the Ihanktowana were arriving to this site in the fall, camping there over the winter, or leaving there in the spring, when they encountered the horse. It may be that as some hunters crested a hill along the banks of the Missouri River, as a thunderstorm was approaching, horses were coming out of the river from the swirls they created themselves as they swam. In an entirely different circumstance, but no less respectful in the telling, the Mandan Indian oral history recounts their first encounter when the Cheyenne Indians came to trade with them in the fall. The Mandan were living in earthlodge villages along the Missouri River for a thousand years, and at about the time of the horses’ arrival they were living in the vicinity of the Heart River. The Cheyenne were living in an earthlodge village of their own at present-day Fort Yates, where “The Hill That Stands Alone” is located. According to the Mandan, the Cheyenne arrived to trade, bringing with them the horse. The Mandan were amazed at the horse and quite taken with its equine beauty. They sought to trade for it, but the Cheyenne resisted their offers. When it came time for the Cheyenne to return to their village, the horse refused to leave the village because she was heavy with a colt. The Cheyenne elected an elderly woman to stay
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Left: A modern pictograph created by Dakota Goodhouse. The horse leaps out of the swirl in the Missouri River. The yellow sinuous lines at the front and rear of the horse symbolize the lightning that struck the swirl, and also the power which was immediately associated with the size and nature of the horse as it first appeared to the Dakota-Lakota people. The blue coloring symbolizes the sacredness of the horse, as the red symbolizes blood and flesh, sunrise and sunset. The script written at the odd angle is the Lord’s Prayer. Right: Release by Michelle Lindblom 43x34 acrylic on canvas
behind with the horse in the Mandan village to assist with the labor. The colt arrived safely, and both mare and colt, along with their caretaker, were welcomed by the Mandan. In fact, Mandan Indians from all the other villages were said to have walked to the host village to see the horses for themselves. When spring came, the Cheyenne returned to the Mandan for their grandmother and the horses. The colt had by that time come to know the Mandan village as home. The Cheyenne finally relented to a trade and allowed the Mandan to keep the horse. The horse enabled an entire village to travel tens of miles. The horse enabled hunters to ride alongside bison and bring them down, whereas before it took a great concerted effort to stampede a gang of bison over a buffalo jump. War parties traveled further than before to secure territory, and mounted war parties made it easier to defend those expanded boundaries. There became a race to control the horse trade, much like controlling nuclear weapons, because the people with horses had the edge over those who did not.
The earliest record of horse-stealing on the Northern Plains is that recorded in the Brown Hat Wintercount. According to this wintercount, in 1706, the Dahkotah stole horses from the Hewaktokah, the old Dahkotah word for the Hidatsa. The Hidatsa at that time were living along the Knife River near present-day Stanton, North Dakota. All these first encounters with the horse and these earliest records relate to it all originating along the Missouri River. For many of the First Nations living today in North Dakota, the Missouri River is where the American Indian horse culture began. The arrival of the horse changed everything from trade and travel to warfare. For natives living along the river on the Upper Missouri, their sense of place embraced a larger view of the Northern Plains. They and the horses they rode belong here. Dakota Goodhouse was born and raised in Fort Yates, North Dakota, on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation and is an enrolled member of the tribe. His traditional Lakota name is Ozuye Nunpa, meaning “Fights-Two-Wars.” Dakota likes to talk history and visits the Little Bighorn Battlefield each summer. He is the program director at the North Dakota Humanities Council. 29
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The Dakota PROJECT By John Helgeland
All too often ethics is taught, or conceived, as a private exercise dealing mostly with individual rights and wrongs. Is it right to tell a lie? What if a lie protects someone from an unjust authority as happened many times in the Third Reich? Can I tell a lie, a white lie so called, to buck up a person with sagging spirits? Does â€œfinders keepersâ€? permit me to keep anything I might find along the road, or in a public washroom? These are examples of individual ethics, involving at most one, two, or three people.
Rupture of the Psyche by Michelle Lindblom 52x46 acrylic on canvas
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But let us turn our thinking to the category of social ethics. Here the questions do not relate to a single person’s virtue or vice, but to building and maintaining the commonwealth. Ideally, this exercise takes place under the auspices of democracy. If the ethical decisions affect large numbers of people then large numbers of people must be involved in the construction of a social ethic. Americans do not take kindly to the model of a benevolent dictator or any other political model that squelches peoples’ individualities. On the one hand, we are an independent people; on the other, we must surrender some of that independence in order to get something done, but it will not do to have policies dictated to us in order to make that happen. The democratic process gets the ball rolling. Here at the Northern Plains Ethics Institute we think about this issue frequently. In order to have many more people come together to form a decision, we ask those who come to us to consider two questions: “What kind of a world do we want to live in?” and “How do we propose to get there?” There are a number of elements involved in these pedagogical questions—some obvious, some not. First, the pronoun “we” is employed in both these questions, not “I.” “We” means society, or participants, or those concerned. Second, the expression “we want” implies imagination. Our imaginations need to be exercised, developed, or focused; it means to dream going beyond the present and then sharing that vision with others. Perhaps we could dig out a concordance to see if this appears somewhere in scripture but here it is, nevertheless, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Ethics involves what should be, not what is or was. It implies a vision of a shaped future. So where is it that visions arise? Are they not some evanescent intrusion into our consciousness? Perhaps in some cases that happens, but more frequently, visions are a mix of our thoughts with those of other people. They develop in community, such as programs presented by the North Dakota Humanities Council. 31
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Appreciation for the humanities is as important to our society as knowledge of economics, law, technology or management. It would be impossible to answer the question, “what kind of a world do we want to live in?” without taking into consideration philosophical questions of justice and community, historical examples of wellordered societies and the forces that undermined them, or visions of a better world created in literature. These themes then must be connected with the Dakota Project. The entire state of North Dakota has been bombarded for the last year with reports of all the dislocations connected to the oil boom. Most of these problems must be addressed elsewhere. One salient fact, however, is that oil is bringing to the state resources beyond anything we have ever enjoyed or imagined. What is the most equitable way to deal with this windfall? What visions will this new wealth make possible? And who is it that will decide how it ought to be distributed? The Dakota Project’s proposal is to invite people from across the state to join in making suggestions. Our procedure will be to start with town hall meetings on various topics. Over the years, the Northern Plains Ethics Institute has conducted town hall sessions on capital punishment, education, technology, business, and statistics. The topics we propose for the Dakota Project are agriculture, technology, finance, knowledge transfer, and culture. Each meeting will begin with the help of various authorities or panels of authorities to spark the conversation. The situations of North Dakota must be understood in global perspective. Agriculture, by way of example, in fifty years may become more valuable than oil since the world’s population is predicted to grow by another billion by then. The goal of the project is to advance many areas of the state’s endeavors. It is also to bring together interested citizens from across the state, because one major theme of the Northern Plains Ethics Institute is democracy. As with so many in our society, it is our perception that democracy is a threatened species. We have only to mention several developments in the last generation that have diminished the democratic process—money, vested interests, control of political parties by fewer and fewer rich people, and the power of business to the disadvantage of the middle class. Another perspective that needs to be counteracted is that government should or even can provide the leadership in society at every level. One result of such thinking is that the population at large feels that its contributions to a civil and creative society are not needed, perhaps even not wanted. We would not suggest that government at various levels doesn’t 32
makes valuable contributions, some that only the power of government can accomplish. But while government is necessary for a well-ordered society, is it sufficiently creative to meet the demands many see on the horizon? The Institute for American Values finds that uncivil discourse is a powerful detriment to an open and free society; this treatment of fellow citizens in public causes many to withhold contributions that would benefit the entire culture. The present state of political conduct alone should prompt many to worry whether our nation, our culture, is headed for collapse. Dare we hope that North Dakota can escape the uglier manifestations of these problems? Maybe it can even lead the way so that even the nation can join with us in a polity of creativity. Perhaps the small population of North Dakota is a blessing in that we know each other better than citizens of large states. Already this state has had an astounding record of creativity and innovation that must be an encouragement to further doing experiments. One example of such daring is the institution of the Group Decision Center (GDC) at North Dakota State University in Fargo. Supported by Provost Craig Schnell, this is a series of computers linked by decision-supporting software. This laboratory does problem solving, brainstorming, and statistical analysis to name its most salient features. Since all input to the system is anonymous, the timid need not fear exposure, blustery people are put in place, and everyone takes credit in the end for a successful outcome, of which there have been many over the years. Indeed the GDC has helped greatly to spare meetings of uncivil discourse while it amazes the participants what can be done in concert. Imagine that: technology in service of humanity. Clearly we are in the process of the development of this project. We invite the participation of any who share our concerns. A number of influential citizens have already expressed interest in this project and are willing to make contributions to it. For the present, let us say how fortunate we are to have the interest and support of the North Dakota Humanities Council as we begin the initial stages of our work. Let us dare to make a difference.
Dr. John Helgeland is a professor of history and religious studies at North Dakota State University and the director of Northern Plains Ethics Institute. Dr. Helgeland was instrumental in the formation of the Northern Plains Ethics Institute (NPEI), as well as the Group Decision Center (GDC). His key area of interest is the connection between religion and violence. [For updates on the Dakota Project join the NDHC mailing list at www.ndhumanities.org.]
Each year the North Dakota Humanities Council funds hundreds of free public humanities programs across the state. To learn more about our grant program and how your organization can apply for funding visit
God is Merciful; The Neighbors, Not So Much By Karen Herzog “Elsewhere, the sky is the roof of the world. But here, the earth is the floor of the sky.” - Willa Cather In the Coen brothers’ film Fargo, there is a moment of pinpoint accuracy that has stuck with me: when Steve Buscemi’s character ditches his stolen cash by burying it next to a fence line in a snow-driven landscape. Searching for a landmark to guide him back to it, he glances right and left. The fence goes into infinity in both directions, with not one other feature in the desolation around him. You can actually feel his hope die right there. Dead funny and spot-on. There’s also a cliché describing how people feel compared to the vastness of a starry sky: “Doesn’t it make you feel small?” I’ve never heard anybody who grew up in North Dakota say it. Duh. We live our lives under the sky, day and night, and we feel our scale underneath it quite clearly. Why belabor the obvious? Some call the prairie featureless, but it’s not. Redwinged blackbirds decorate the cattails. Rusting threshers sit sentinel on rises like husked locusts. Cattle idly switch flies off their backs in the summer. We have power lines and gravel roads and shelterbelts. Nothing to rival the sky, though. North Dakotans understand that we have some control over the earth. We can plow it and plant it and hope to harvest it. But all that work, in the end, comes down to what comes down from above, from the immense downturned bowl we live beneath. Rain, hail, sun, wind, tornado, frost, blizzard. How natural then, that “beneath” has become one of our basic understandings of our place, in this place. This landscape offers few places of concealment. You can’t really hide behind a barbed wire fence. Neglect of your crops or your livestock or your outbuildings will be revealed to anybody driving past. You can’t hide the evidence of your work habits, hence, your 34
character, from the community. And, like poor Lydia Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, the good opinion of your neighbors, your credibility, your respectability, once lost, is gone for good. In small communities, redemption is available, but in limited quantities and only after death. God is merciful; the neighbors, not so much. “Where there is bread, there is home.” – GermanRussian proverb All my great-grandparents were among those who immigrated to the Dakotas from crumbling czarist Russia, to claim some of the last free homesteading land still available. From their villages around the Black Sea, they had worked a unique pocket of another vast landscape, the Russian steppe. For more than 100 years, those Germans, speaking their antique Swabian dialect, had held fiercely together in their little colonies, islands in the vastness of Eurasia and aliens to the sea of Russians surrounding them. Fearful of the forced assimilation they foresaw coming, they picked up and emigrated. To another place where they were again the outsiders, the minority, the newcomers, starting from scratch. They bought land from ‘the English’ who had preceded them to the Dakotas in the decades following the Civil War. What those Back Easterners found here was a climate of fierce extremes. They found that breaking sod was breaking them. They had other skills and they mostly left and took themselves elsewhere. But these German-
Top: Threshing, 1937. The author’s Bottom left: Snow in 1943 nearly buried the garage on our grandmother’s farm Bottom middle: The author’s grandmother, Katherine Gebhardt Rempfer, and her sister-in-law, Fredrika Gebhardt, 1925 Bottom right: The author’s cousin, Paul Speidel, and his bottle lamb, 1926 All photos courtsey of Elizabeth Rempfer Fiechtner, courtesy of Mike Rempfer, Bismarck, ND
speaking immigrants stuck. Plucking up the courage to leave their villages and vineyards and fields, cross half of Europe, the whole Atlantic and then another half-continent, had wrenched them to the core, left them hungry to burrow their roots down into the earth, something to hold them in place. In those first decades, it took everything they were—fertile, tough and prolific—to wrest a living, by brute force, from this treeless and semi-arid place. Even today, in North Dakota’s politics and culture, you can feel the after-echoes of our grandparents’ fear, as greenhorns, of being duped, cheated, taken advantage of. The wounded pride of feeling their way through another foreign culture, at feeling foolish, being ridiculed, of the stigma of the bumpkin, the peasant. Economically and politically, prairie people have felt both forgotten and exploited. Living in a small and sparsely populated state, with a culture emphasizing humility and obedience to authority, we are left feeling ourselves at the mercy of faceless forces, those who set gas prices and commodity prices. Buy high, sell low. “A German will fall into work like another man into sin.” – from the book Plains Folk, by Father William Sherman Wind, grasshoppers, drought, blizzard. You can try to out-think them, out-plan them. Mostly, you can work, and drive those around you to work, until you drop, knowing all that labor can be extinguished
in a ten-minute hailstorm. Farmers share the same dread, have the same knots in their stomachs. Here, that means short, broken sleep at calving time, pushing yourself from daylight past dark at harvest-time, racing against whatever the sky might deal out, outrun disaster, get the crop in, safe. Please, no sleet at calving. Please, no hail at harvest. Please rain. Please, but not today. Small things can be disastrous. So no slacking. No goofing off, leaving the corral gate open; taking a day off from haying, only to have a thunderstorm flatten the field. Catching a hand in the power take-off; leaving a spark that ignites a haystack. Carelessness is no minor vice. Taking risks is not just foolish, but can be deadly. When people wonder why North Dakota doesn’t breed squadrons of risk-taking visionaries and daredevil entrepreneurs, we could wearily say that making a living from the land gives us all the risk we want, thank you.
The question outsiders ask most often is, “why don’t you leave?” The answer is, lots of people have done so. Even some who loved it dearly have given it up. The 1930s took a big slice. The 1980s took another. But for those who stay, despite it all … well, sometimes people love the thing that tests them to their limits. Because to survive 35
in a hard and contrary place, you must learn to know it intimately, so thoroughly, that it becomes part of your skin. With time and close acquaintance, you morph into a creature of the prairie, as much as the badger or the fox. This place teaches you and feeds you and so it is your parent. It depends on you and is nurtured by you and so it becomes your child. It is with you in sickness and in health, and so it becomes your spouse. It takes you beyond yourself into the unknowable and the ineffable and so it becomes your religion. The God-feeling is there in the deep satisfaction in a full silo, contented cattle grazing at twilight, the cry of the killdeer, the chickens safely a-roost. It’s in the chevrons of barking geese, the smell of alfalfa, ducklings paddling in their mother’s wake in the sloughs, heavy heads of wheat nodding in the wind, the sting of November sleet, the ringing silences, the long view. The meadowlark’s exaltation on a spring morning. “A northern exposure affords more constant light than any other direction.” – The Art of Pastel Painting by Alan Flattmann. The tension that keeps a community, a tribe, from either collapsing or exploding is exquisitely delicate. To thrive within it, each member unconsciously fine-tunes his or her behavior to keep the equilibrium. The tribe hates braggarts and boasters – “big shot” is an epithet, as much as it despises idlers and slackers – “shiftless” is another. Braggarts are inexorably pushed to the outside of the community’s regard. No one will say it to their faces – because after all, we have to live together– but boasting marks one as a fool. As for the lazy or foolish, obligation requires their kin to make up their slack, to prevent them draining the community’s hard-earned resources. Naming yourself an artist, especially in those early hardscrabble years, would be taken both as an insufferable boast and an admission of idleness, that is, spending time in something of no tangible benefit to the group. A rural woman had leeway to create in traditional ways, such as quilting or crocheting (if spare time was to be found amid the dozen children she was raising). After all, her creations were utilitarian, served a purpose other than her own (read “selfish”) enjoyment. She could have a row of flowers, as long as they didn’t take space or time from the vegetable garden. Once retired, a rural man entered a time of blessed immunity from criticism for removing his nose from the grindstone. If his body hadn’t given out from overwork,
The author’s grandparents, Christian and Katherine Rempfer, circa 1925. The couple had 13 children, and at least one who died in infancy. Elizabeth Rempfer Fiechtner, courtesy of Mike Rempfer, Bismarck, ND
he would be allowed to putter and tinker in his woodworking shop, making things from scraps of wood and wire and metal. It was understood that he’d done his time. Among the fine arts, respect was given to musical ability. Music was something that could be shared, enjoyed by everyone. It adorned worship, like flowers on the altar. The idea of someone painting or writing as a living, however, would have utterly nonplussed the tribe. Of what use to the community was a painter’s canvas or a writer’s journal? The idea that you might create for yourself alone, for just your own pleasure, felt wrong, selfish, even dangerous. It took valuable time away from other pursuits. It singled you out as odd. And because, for the tribe to live together in truce, if not peace, some things must not be said. Writers risk disturbing the peace. Because, after all, who knows what they might say? To write something that would expose the group’s soft underbelly or puncture its hard protective shell would be to forfeit the community’s protection and good grace. The ties that bind, as they ever have, can work as both cradle and noose. The artists hidden among the early arrivals are gone, most to the graves with their art still curled up dormant within them. For their children and grandchildren, the disappearance of those tight communities has been both a grief and a freeing. The landscape is rearranging itself again. The cities are growing and the countryside, except in the upheaval of the Bakken, is darkening. Where once a dozen farmsteads’ yard lights could be seen, now there might be one or two, or none. But it’s that dark, ironically, that has made it safe for those gestating prairie artists to emerge, hesitantly, from their rabbit holes.
Karen Herzog is a fourth-generation North Dakota who grew up on the family farm in Dickey County and still owns the land which her grandparents homesteaded there. She is a graduate of Jamestown College and has worked as a reporter and columnist for the Bismarck Tribune since 1994. Herzog lives in Mandan and has three grown children.
Four Souls: Memory and Identity from the Borders A Public Humanities Symposium Honoring Louise Erdrich
August 23-24, 2012 Fargo, ND & Moorhead, MN
Sometimes you have to go outside yourself in order to find yourself.
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 Tayo “Jay” Basquiat, Mandan VICE CHAIR Kate Haugen, Fargo Najla Amundson, Fargo Barbara Andrist, Crosby Paige Baker, Mandaree Aaron Barth, Fargo Tami Carmichael, Grand Forks Virginia Dambach, Fargo Tim Flakoll, Fargo Kara Geiger, Mandan Kristin Hedger, Killdeer Janelle Masters, Mandan Christopher Rausch, Bismarck 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.
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” — T. S. Eliot 38
Published on Apr 2, 2012
On Second Thought is a publication of the North Dakota Humanities Council. This issue consists of submissions, most of which examine the ch...