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More culture than you think…

There is a large segment of the North Dakota population that is German from Russia. My maternal grandmother was a German from Russia and left Odessa when she was a young woman. The Germans from Russia get a lot of publicity in this state as do the Sons of Norway. But, there is a lot more culture in North Dakota than you realize, and when you add in Native American culture, you best get a pen and piece of paper and make a list.

There are numerous small segments of the population that cling on to their European heritage, even to this day. As an example, the community of Mountain in Pembina County is a mecca of Icelandic heritage. The population is less than 200, but it is a significant link to the old country as countless people from Mountain over the years have traveled to Iceland and Icelanders, including prime ministers, have come to Mountain.

Most of us don’t think about this and many more of us are unaware that there is a strong Ukrainian presence in North Dakota in the southwest. In 1996, Ukrainians in North Dakota celebrated 100 years since they first arrived from Ukraine. There is enough heritage that the Ukrainian Cultural Institute, located in Dickinson, was organized in 1980. Its organization was prompted by a desire to preserve the Ukrainian culture in North Dakota. President of Dickinson State University, Dr. Albert A. Watrel, participated with the Ukrainian community in developing the guidelines needed to meet the aims of the proposed organization. On May 30, 1980, the Ukrainian community and Dickinson State University signed an agreement which read: “Memorandum of Agreement between the Ukrainian Community and Dickinson State University for the purpose of establishing a Ukrainian Cultural Institute which is dedicated for the furthering of education through the preserving, promoting, and displaying of the Ukrainian Culture.”

As UCI grew, a building was purchased on Villard Street in Dickinson to house the Institute’s administrative office, gift shop and the Marie Halyn Bloch Library. A large kitchen serves well for the production of pyrohy, made available to the general public through local grocery stores and by direct purchase at the UCI. Pyrohy is the Ukrainian word for a Polish food we call pierogie. The building also offers space for Lenten lunches, UCI’s board meetings, choir practices, and other events throughout the year.

Also in the 1980s, with assistance from DSU history professors, Dr. Michael Soper and Dr. Russell Veeder, UCI was awarded a grant to interview Ukrainian immigrants. The text was transcribed and recorded on CDs. These recordings became a resource for Ken Howie’s film “Hardship to Freedom” (2014) and Agnes Palanuk’s book “North Dakota’s Ukrainians: In Their Voices.” Both the film and book are available through the Ukrainian Cultural Institute. Now, if there was a Ukrainian festival even remotely similar to the Norsk Hostfest, more of North Dakota could learn about our state’s Ukrainian heritage.

In case you didn’t know, there’s also some Greek heritage in the state. Outside of a Greek restaurant in Fargo, most of us wouldn’t think about Greek background. However, there’s a Greek Orthodox church in Minot. This Eastern Orthodox Christian church calls attention to the historic ethnic and cultural diversity of Minot. St. Peter’s has a Mediterranean quality with monolithic stuccoed exterior, small round-arched windows, and shallow domes atop the corner towers. The recessed entrance in the gable front is flanked by pairs of Doric columns. The building was rehabilitated following the 2011 flood.

There was also Denice Manson, who was my apartment neighbor when I first moved to Langdon. Denice told me when she was a young girl, her family fled Greece, and while staying in a hotel on their way, she remembered seeing Adoph Hitler and his men walk across the street below.

Let’s not forget British heritage. Nobody likes to admit it, but many of our ancestors were British, and we still carry that heritage. Either they came directly from England, were transplanted from Canada, or were married to Britons. I think you’ll find some people who like their pickled onions and afternoon high tea and biscuits.

Dutch, Swedish, Swiss, Lebonese, Australian, South African, Danish, Spanish, Portuguese and perhaps others are also represented in North Dakota as well as Sioux, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Chippewa, Cree, Assiniboine and Metis.

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