14 May 2006

I found out yesterday about towns in North Dakota giving land to people willing to move there and stay for a certain length of time. As testament to how removed I am from the actual goings-on in that state I heard this from friends visiting from Minnesota who'd read about it in the New York Times.

You can read the article here but need to be a TimesSelect subscriber. Also check out this article for free. Of the people they interviewed from North Dakota I personally know three of them and know the family names of most of the rest.

Both articles mention a website called Prairie Opportunity. They're not giving away land (I don't think anyone is actually giving away land), but they're trying to recruit 5000 people to move to North Dakota, sort of. If you read on it sounds like they don't actually want you. They say, "Many are too far removed from the rural to ever become a part of it . . . Odds are, you are not a candidate for NW North Dakota. You have succumbed to the cities." The website reads like a poorly written military recruitment flyer. It also sounds a little cultish. "Northwest North Dakota has an opportunity for 5,000 people. Not the first 5,000... the right 5,000." A biblical recruitment of 5,000 people to, "live under clear skies, drink clean water, to worry less and enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed."

The best part of the website is the guestbook: the website recieved a bunch of hits and comments as a result of the NYT article. Mostly wacky idealists and a few appropriately cynical cynics. I'm one of the latter, but my post didn't show up, so here it is:

One commenter to this board asked, "Would Jewish people be accepted?" and "Would people with liberal views be accepted?" Sadly, the answer is 'no'. Not because your Jewish or liberal per say, but because you'd be an outsider.

People are nice enough in North Dakota, just as people are nice enough anywhere. And finding community is hard anywhere, even in cities when there are thousands of people and groups to choose from. In rural ND there aren't different communities to choose from. Either you're in THE community or your not. Having different religous and political views only makes it harder.

My family moved to North Dakota when I was 6. I grew up in SW North Dakota and left when I graduated from high school. I went to college in upstate New York and now live in Eastern Massachusetts with my husband, an Easterner from Philadelphia. My parents are still living in ND, almost twenty years later, and are still considered outsiders. Outsiders even though my family is Caucasian, loosely Christian, and not overtly opinionated politically.

Even if you value honesty and hard work and you believe in community and family you won't be welcome in North Dakota unless you are also a registered Republican and go to church on Sunday. I'm being glib, but not wholly untruthful. There is a man that ranches just north of us; he is an amazing naturalist and an outspoken liberal and environmentalist. He has struggled the past few years because no one turns up to help him with branding or calving or fencing.

I have moments when I'm nostalgic for North Dakota, for the wonderful youth I had there. Sometimes my husband and I think about moving back: we like the idea of living and raising a family in a small community. Even if we could find jobs I still don't think we'd move back. We'd be miserable without a community of people we could connect with.

Alcoholism and drug abuse are high among my friends who've stayed in the state. The physical isolation is difficult enough. The emotional isolation of being liberal and non-Christian would be impossible. This website almost blatantly says you're not wanted if you're different.

It's admirable in a way: the fierce pride North Dakotan's have in their harsh, dying landscape. They don't think there are many who can make it under such circumstances: the weather, the isolation, the lack of resources. Probably there aren't. This says to me that circumstances need to change. The unfortunate reality is that most North Dakotan’s don't want to see it change. They aren't ready to embrace diversity of any kind.

This state will continue to decline until its residents open their minds and hearts to more than a select 5000. To do this North Dakota must embrace the original spirit of the Pioneer. The original pioneers came from a multitude of cultures and built thriving towns and cities. Often these pioneers were laborers from the old countries, who knew nothing about farming or prairie life, but they were tenacious and they had vision. They didn't come to North Dakota to find a quaint and idyllic life: they came for the opportunity to build an empire. North Dakotans must embrace THIS pioneering spirit - the spirit of change, growth, and opportunity - if they want to see positive changes in the state.