History of North Dakota
The territory of today’s North Dakota has been Native American land for thousands of years. The first European in this territory was the French-Canadian fur trader and explorer, La Verendrye. This was in 1738 and, even though native tribes tried (and mostly succeeded in) avoiding any contact with the Europeans, by the time the Lewis and Clarke expedition arrived in North Dakota in 1804, the tribes were well aware that the French and the Spanish had their eye on their territory.
Until the late 1800’s, the entire Dakota Territory had only few and sparse settlements, but this soon changed when first railroads entered the area and the region was marketed for new settlers. Most of them were German Americans (especially German Russian immigrants), Scandinavian Americans and Yankees.
The period after the World War I saw interesting political activity in North Dakota. Discontent grew amongst wheat farmers, especially the Norwegians, and it eventually led to the formation of Non-Partisan League or NPL, a left-wing political movement whose main goal was to protect the state from corporations and banks from other states. The movement established the state-owned bank (Bank of North Dakota) and North Dakota Mill and Elevator, and even constructed the state’s own railroad. The government passed laws that protected the farmlands from foreclosure and ensured that, even in the case of a foreclosure, banks and mortgage companies have no right to the property title. Despite the corporate efforts, these laws are still in force in North Dakota.
The 1950ies saw many construction projects in North Dakota (Garrison Dam, Minot and Grand Forks Air Force bases), which boosted the economy, along with increased activity in oil exploration, especially in western parts of the state.
North Dakota Geography
North Dakota is a part of the region of Great Plains. This extensive prairie, grassland and steppe region, west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains, covers several states, including North and South Dakota, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. North Dakota is usually called the High Plains. Looking at the map of North America, North Dakota occupies its geographic center and in fact there is a stone marker in the town of Rugby that says “Geographic Center of the North American Continent”.
While the hilly Great Planes make up most of the western portion of the state, the part to the east belongs to the Badlands region. Badland formations, with soft and eroded sedimentary rocks and the soil rich in clay, can be found in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, with the state’s highest point, White Butte. This area is known for its fossil fuel deposits (lignite coal and crude oil). Lake Sakakawea, one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States, is also located in this area.
The central portion of the state consists of the Drift Prairie and the Missouri Plateau. Red River of the North passes through North Dakota as it flows northwards to Canada and the Lake Winnipeg. The Red River Valley is very fertile and lined with farms, crops and agricultural centers. The land is more flat to the east of the state, covered mostly in grass, with occasional buttes and medium-sized hills.Red River of the North passes through North Dakota as it flows northwards to Canada and the Lake Winnipeg.
As for the climate, North Dakota has the typical northern continental weather. The summers are hot and the winters are cold, and events such as blizzards, hail and tornadoes are not rare. Flooding is a big problem in North Dakota, especially in the spring, along the banks of the Red River of the North.
Population of North Dakota
In 2011, the population of North Dakota was 683,932. According to the 2010 Census, the racial makeup in the state is 88.9% non-Hispanic White, 5.4% Native American, 2% Hispanic or Latino, 1% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.5% some other race and 0.2% two or more races.
The largest ancestry groups are German, Norwegian, Irish, Swedish, Russian, French and English.
As for the religion, the largest denomination is Lutheranism, followed by Roman Catholic Church. Other religious communities include Methodists, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims.
North Dakota was once a very attractive destination for immigrants, both from other parts of the United States and from Europe (especially from Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Norway). The western part of the state consisted mostly of fertile countryside and the farming activity bloomed, so by the time the World War I started, this was one of the richest farm regions in the USA. However, ever since the 1920ies, the state’s population has been in constant decline. Farming was no longer the most desired industry, especially for younger generations who were more interested in earning a degree and moving to large cities. However, there has been some slight increase in the population, probably because of new job opportunities that opened in the oil industry.
As for the ancestry, most of the North Dakotans are of Northern European descent, mostly German and Norwegian. They brought Lutheranism to the region, founded numerous churches (North Dakota has the most churches per capita in the USA) and outnumbered other denominations. Lutheranism is still today the most numerous denomination in the state. As for the Scandinavians, they brought their own culture, tradition, music and cuisine to North Dakota, and many of their cultural aspects are still present. In fact, the city of Minot is the host of the annual Norsk Hostfest, the single largest Scandinavian event on the American continent.
The state has a large Native American population (5,4%) and their presence is a significant part of North Dakota’s life and culture. Powwows were always an important element in the life of Native American tribes, and even today they are frequently held and attended by Natives and non-Natives alike.
North Dakota has several officially recognized tribes and reservations, where the Native Americans are self-organized, independent and sovereign in respect to the federal government. Those tribes are the Standing Rock Sioux (in the Standing Rock Indian Reservation), Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (Turtle Mountain Reservation), Spirit Lake Tribe (reservation located near Devil’s Lake) and Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (Fort Berthold Reservation).
The largest city in North Dakota is Fargo. Bismarck, the state capital, is the second-largest city in the state, followed by Grand Forks, Minot, West Fargo, Mandan, Dickinson, Jamestown, Williston and Wahpeton.
North Dakota Economy
In 2005, the gross domestic product in North Dakota was $24 billion.In 2006, the per capita income was $33,034.
North Dakota is the only state in the USA with a state-owned bank (the Bank of North Dakota) and a state-owned mill (the North Dakota Mill and Elevator).
The economy of North Dakota relies greatly on agriculture. Approximately 90% of the state area are farms and its cropland is the third largest in the USA. The major cultivars are barley, durum wheat, oats, buckwheat and corn. The production of oilseeds in the state is also significant, especially canola, flax, sunflower and mustard seed. North Dakota is famous for its sugarbeets and legumes (peas, beans and lentils) and it is the nation’s third largest producer of potatoes.
In addition to the strong agricultural sector, the energy industry is also highly prominent in North Dakota’s economy. Not only the state is the second largest producer of lignite in the United States, but thanks to the discovery of oil near Tioga it is today a very important factor in America’s oil industry. As for the greener solutions, North Dakota is a part of the Great Plains area, which is known as the “Saudi Arabia of wind energy”.
Tourism is the least lucrative industry in North Dakota. The state does not get much visitors, and they are usually either from Canada or from the bordering states. Aside from the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Norsk Hostfest and the Medora Musical festival, the state does not offer any major tourist attractions.
North Dakota Government and Legislature
The government in North Dakota, like the one on the federal level, is divided into three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. The executive branch is led by the state governor. The governor, as well as the lieutenant governor, serve four-year terms. The other offices in the executive branch are attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor.
The legislative branch is embodied in the North Dakota Legislative Assembly. This body consists of the Senate with 47 members (one for each district) and of the House of Representatives with 94 members (two for each district). Senators and representatives serve four-year terms.
The judicial system in North Dakota has four levels. The lowest level, or the city and town level, consists of the municipal courts. District courts represent the next level of courts in the state. The North Dakota Court of Appeals consists of three-judge panels and the highest level is represented by the North Dakota Supreme Court with five justices.
North Dakota has four federally recognized tribes: Standing Rock Sioux, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and Spirit Lake Tribe. These tribes have sovereign and independent relations with the federal government.
As for the politics, the Republican Party is usually doing better than the Democrats in the presidential elections. In fact, North Dakota has voted Democratic only four times in the presidential elections. On the other hand, the state usually votes Democratic for the federal delegation.
Education in North Dakota
The system of higher education in North Dakota consists of 11 public universities and colleges, five tribal community colleges and four private institutions. The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and North Dakota State University in Fargo are the largest institutions in the state.
Other state institutions include Bismarck State College, Dickinson State University, lake Region State College, Mayville State University, Minot State University, Dakota College at Bottineau, North Dakota State College of Science, Valley City State University and Williston State College.
Tribal institutions of higher learning include Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Fort Berthold Community College, Sitting Bull College, Turtle Mountain Community College and United Tribes Technical College.
Private schools in North Dakota include Rasmussen College with campuses in Fargo and Bismarck, Jamestown College, University of Mary in Bismarck and Trinity Bible College in Ellendale.
North Dakota Transportation
The largest highways in North Dakota are I-94 (running east-west from Minnesota to Montana) and I-29 (north-south along the eastern edge of the state). The two highways intersect at Fargo. The entire North Dakota Interstate Highway System is paved in concrete, instead of blacktop, like in other parts of the country. The main reason for this is the extreme weather to which concrete is more resilient.
Major rail systems in North Dakota are BNSF and Canadian Pacific Railway. Amtrak provides passenger rail service on the Empire Builder line, with seven stops in the state, including Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot.
Passenger bus service is provided by Greyhound and Jefferson Lines. Public transit consists of bus lines in largest cities.
Principal airports in the state include Hector International Airport in Fargo, Grand Forks International Airport, Bismarck Municipal Airport and Minot International Airport.