At 125, state remembers where it has been, wonders where its going
Growing up, my favorite class was always history. If there was one class that I actually paid attention in, it was Mike Schatz’s history and government classes at New England High School. (Except for that one time when I dozed off during a movie day. But, c’mon, who didn’t do that in history class at least once?)
As eighth-graders, Schatz taught one semester of North Dakota history and government. It was longer than the required minimum set by the state, but he was the type of teacher who felt that North Dakota kids should take time to learn more about their state rather than something that happened 1,000 years ago in a European country that no longer exists.
That class still resonates with me today. Ask my California-born and Montana-raised wife what I’m most proud of and she’ll say, “Being a North Dakotan.”
Today, North Dakota celebrates its 125th birthday as a state. It’s a time to look back at where we’ve been and where we’re going.
President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed North Dakota part of the United States in 1889, and since then our state has seen its influx of immigrants. While the Native Americans were around long before anyone else, North Dakota — like the rest of America — quickly became a melting pot of mainly European immigrants who could not only handle the dramatic climate changes our state experiences, but also knew how to cultivate the vast expanses of farmland. Back then, North Dakotans were Germans from Russia, Ukrainians, Norwegians, Swiss, Irish, British, and plain old Germans and Russians.
Today, our state is seeing a new wave of immigrants brought here, mainly by the economic growth from the oil, energy, manufacturing and construction industries. Because of that, our state’s minority population is growing faster than ever as more African-Americans and people of Latin descent —some of whom are first-generation Americans —now call this state home.
For much of North Dakota’s history, the pace of life has been slow and deliberate.
A state built on agriculture, North Dakotans know how to get work done. We’ve also gained a reputation as hard workers. I’m sure you’ve heard stories of out-of-state employers learning that an applicant was from North Dakota and giving them a job based on our state’s reputation for having people with a good work ethic.
But not only do we work hard, we also make dang sure not to rush into anything. Because of that, to other parts of the country, we’re always a step behind the times. That was probably very true before the invention of the Internet, and cable and satellite TV. In some ways, it still is. We still don’t put a priority on the latest fashion trends and many of us can still live great lives even without the hottest gadgets. While almost everyone uses them now, I’m convinced southwest North Dakota was the last place to get iPhones. Somehow, we survived.
As North Dakota looks back on 125 years that have quietly but surely helped shape the nation —we’ve long been a leader in agriculture and energy production, and likely will be for a long time —we must also look forward to the future as a place that can set the tone for the rest of the country.
Yes, winter here is still cold and, to some people in our entertainment-starved culture, there still isn’t all that much to do.
But our economy is booming, our unemployment is almost non-existent, and while there are hardships, like inflated cost of living and a rise in crime, North Dakota is still much better off than most areas of the country. Remember, McDonalds workers in New York are protesting because they aren’t paid $15 an hour. In Dickinson, there’s a McDonalds offering that much and more — and they can’t find enough help.
Tomorrow, the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck will have its grand re-opening, showcasing a $52 million renovation and expansion that is outstanding and should be enjoyed by all North Dakotans at least once.
I encourage everyone to go there at least once. See where North Dakota was millions of years ago, where it was five centuries ago, where it was when it became a state, where it was when you were a child, and imagine what type of place it will be for your grandchildren’s children. North Dakota is an amazing place. No matter what happens, we keep going. Even when it’s 20 below, we’re still out there loading grain, drilling for oil, showing up for work on time and getting the job done. Why? Because that’s what North Dakotans have done for 125 years, and it’s what we’ll continue to do for the next 125 years.