Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


A mecca for immigrants...

Posted 6/19/18 (Tue)

In 1861, Dakota Territory was organized and there was just a scattering of people from one end to the other.

So until there were 60,000 people by law in each half of the Dakotas, they remained one territory. Twenty-eight years later the magic number was met.

So where do you suppose those 60,000 people came from? Most of us like to think Germany or Norway, but that’s not always the case.

True enough, along the northern tier, there are a lot of people of Norwegian descent. But, there are five Scandinavian countries and there are descendents living in North Dakota from all five.

To this day, there are pockets of people with Danish descent as well as Swedish. There’s also a community in Pembina County that celebrates its Icelandic past each year.

On numerous occasions the Icelandic president or prime minister has been in Mountain to speak to those who are so proud of their Icelandic heritage.

It’s a little harder to find Finlanders in any large numbers, but they are scattered about.

In the early days of Dakota Territory, however, many of the immigrants came from Italy, Ireland, England and Ukraine.

In fact, there remain groups of Ukrainian descendents in the state. If you ever wander around Killdeer or the rural area toward Dickinson, you’ll find numerous people with Ukrainian names. There’s even a Ukrainian church between Grassy Butte and Dickinson in Billings County.

Many of them came to the Canadian prairies as well. If you ever get a chance to visit the Winnipeg Art Gallery, you’ll find some magnificent original Ukrainian paintings from the 1860s.

Numerous British people had a hand in getting North Dakota started and going as well, and although they don’t exploit their heritage like many others, the descendents are here, living and working and being productive.

Across the southern tier is where most of the German descendents live. We’ve all heard about the Germans from Russia with heavy concentrations of descendents around Strasburg, Hague, Zeeland, Ashley, Wishek, Napoleon and Edgeley. There are other communities where Germans from Russia live like Mandan, Selfridge and Flasher, but not in any large numbers.

Many of those pioneers originated somewhere in Russia, migrated to Ukraine, then came to the United States. Some time ago Prairie Public TV did a segment on the Germans from Russia and some of them said their ancestors said that when they realized where they wound up, they would have gone back to Russia, but they didn’t have the money to get back so they were stuck here.

One of those little known facts about our state is that the oldest mosque still in existence in the United States, was erected at Ross, near Stanley, and still stands.

In 1929, people from Lebanon and Syria built the place of worship after they arrived in Mountrail County hoping to become part of the Homestead Act. Many of them did and those who died are buried in the adjacent cemetery.

There are also descendents of people who have come here from Poland, Hungary, France, Switzerland and Greece.

More recently, we’ve seen immigrants from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and the Netherlands. There have also been a few from Australia and New Zealand.

We’ve also had asylum seekers from Cuba, Russia, Vietnam, Kosovo, Somalia and Iraq.

In addition, it’s a given that many Canadians helped shape our state. In the early days, many of them would bounce back and forth, but now many live here for various reasons that include work, sports, marriage and owning businesses.

North Dakota features the heritage of many other countries. On the surface we see Norwegian and German, but all we need to do is attend the North Dakota State Fair and look at all the ethnic food options that are available.

There’s pierogis from Poland, poutine from Canada, sauerkraut from Germany, chocolate from Switzerland, romegrat from Norway, borscht from Ukraine and tacos from Mexico.

Oddly enough, only 2.7 percent of our population is Oriental. Outside those who fled the Vietnam War in the 1970s, there are few Chinese or Japanese descendents.

So where do you think the next wave of immigrants will come from? Don’t be surprised if it’s South Africa. There are many South Africans here on work visas and they like North Dakota. They may start moving here.