NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — ‘Friendly’ North Dakota, You’ve Got Some ’Splaining To Do

Back in simpler times, when I worked with Tourism Director Joe Satrom in Bismarck, one of our main objectives for bringing tourist dollars into North Dakota was to persuade the media to write about North Dakota, that “large, rectangular blank spot in the nation’s mind,” as native Eric Sevareid memorably put it.

To write about North Dakota, that is, without bringing up the weather.

Over the years, other tourism officials carried on that too-often-futile pursuit, including incumbent director Sara Otte Coleman and two of her illustrious predecessors whom you may have heard of, Jim Fuglie and Kevin Cramer. All, like Joe, were bloodied from time to time from battling skeptical legislators for marketing dollars — an ad budget mostly invested to target travelers already crossing Interstate 94, hoping to slow them down to appreciate the state’s little known natural, cultural and historical attractions.

Slow and steady usually wins the race. The North Dakota tourism industry has been growing for decades, thanks to their persistent marketing efforts. Though dwarfed by oil and agriculture, the more stable fortunes of those seeking to entertain travelers have provided a welcome boost in many quarters.

But forget “slow and steady.” North Dakota’s name can suddenly be heard on the lips of every major news medium in the country. No, make that the world! The battle being fought along the Cannonball has succeeded in spectacular fashion, accomplishing what no amount of travel writers’ tours and TV ads starring Josh Duhamel could accomplish: The whole world is now watching this particular patch of formerly forgotten land.

And it stings more than a little.

As wise mothers everywhere warn their too-exuberant offspring, “be careful of what you wish for.” The limelight North Dakota partisans have longed for turns out to be both scorching and corrosive. It’s eating away at years and years of hard-won progress in burnishing the state’s image … or, for that matter, persuading the rest of the world this little-known patch of land really does exist.

Perhaps we should add “putting North Dakota on the map” to the previous governor’s list of mottled accomplishments.

Ever since the first anti-pipeline protesters declared themselves “water protectors” last spring, a growing roster of reporters has been intrigued by their resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. In-state media originally ignored the story as long as they could. Alternative sources, though, showed impressive reach via the World Wide Web, airing points of view from the mushrooming protest encampments, complete with compelling video.

They were there on Labor Day weekend when escalating tension with Energy Transfer Partners led to the first bloody confrontation —  when private security unleashed the dogs on peaceful Native American protesters. It was they who captured the indelible images that will illustrate the next chapter on civil rights in our grandchildren’s American history textbooks —  drawing parallels to Bull Conner siccing the dogs and firehoses on black marchers in Birmingham, Ala., more than 50 years ago.

Then, the epic North Dakota showdown finally reached the mainstream.

Two very different perspectives have dominated ever since. Local coverage focuses on nearly universal support among North Dakota politicians, who are enthusiastic fans of the pipeline to carry Bakken crude.

Regional, national and international reporters, though, come at it from a broader perspective, and theirs is the one that’s carried the day.

Aggrieved governors and elected officials dispatched to D.C. are somewhat less than pleased with their portrayal by virtually every newspaper, television network, investigative news team and correspondent around the globe. Gov. Dalrymple complained of its unfairness during his last week at the state’s helm. Despite meeting with Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault during his first days, Gov. Burgum is definitely on board the same train of thought.

Those darned out-of-staters! If not for them, this would never have happened … or, at least, word wouldn’t have leaked out beyond North Dakota’s borders. Now, being in the national spotlight doesn’t seem to be quite the boon that tourism marketers always longed for.

It’s going to be interesting, I think, to watch how the Tourism Division copes with this newfound notoriety as the traditional travel-marketing season begins. Legendary, indeed.

The state has invested many, many millions in creating a carefully crafted, attractive image that intertwines Native Americans, fur traders, immigrant farmers and the U.S. Cavalry. The great Missouri River and the tribes whom white explorers encountered along its banks are a huge part of North Dakota’s often-touted appeal to international travelers, especially Europeans. Just one example: Travel materials have always featured a generous helping of colorful powwow photos and video —  no coincidence there —  in a canny attempt to tie this little-known destination to the glamour of the Wild West.

The North Dakota Legislature, looking in a different direction, seems intent on shooting holes in that whole picture. It will be interesting to see how the Legendary campaign dovetails with the new, high-profile reputation that elected leaders, law enforcement and legislators have been so wildly successful at shaping.

Josh Duhamel, North Dakota’s well-paid official advertising spokesman, really is awfully cute, especially wearing that fur-lined “mad bomber” hat in front of the Fargo Theatre. But has anyone in Bismarck noticed that the target market likeliest to recognize the home-grown actor (with or without Fergie) is the self-same generation most concerned about preserving the environment … and, coincidentally, best informed about the No-DAPL movement via scathing coverage on social media?

And what about those “out-of-staters,” the generic infiltrators whom state leaders in Bismarck seem to universally loathe and deem responsible for the whole situation going south? “Out of state” is pretty much where tourists come from.

When it comes to slaughtering North Dakota’s reputation for friendliness to visitors, though, the final coup is coming from the Legislature.

It wasn’t bad enough that the esteemed thought leaders at the Capitol rallied around the possibility of whisking visitors beyond our borders even quicker, the absolute opposite of 50 years of tourism strategy. Raising the interstate speed limit to America’s fastest will certainly help shorten their exposure to North Dakota — something some may welcome after all they’ve heard.

But there’s more. Now there’s also substantial support in some quarters for running dissenting humans down if they walk where drivers desire to speed unimpeded.

HB 1203, introduced by Dakota Access Pipeline supporter Keith Kempenich, a Republican from Bowman, is getting big-time coverage for its innovative approach to squelching protests by squashing protesters. In a sort of motorized, high-stakes version of Whack-a-Mole, he has proposed to hold blameless those drivers who “unintentionally injure or kill a pedestrian obstructing traffic on a public road or highway.” He admits the measure is aimed squarely at Standing Rock, where peaceful protests have slowed travel on Highway 1806 from time to time.

Note that weasely adverb, “unintentionally” —  a motive that’s impossible to prove. Its sponsor claims a protester jumped out in front of his mother-in-law and startled her. He manfully seeks to shield her if she should accidentally hit the gas instead of the brakes. If this is a genuine risk, it’s time to take away the keys.

Adding this well-thought-out law to the Century Code, however, would affect more than nervous elderly ladies who are a little shaky behind the wheel. It proclaims open season anyone who thoughtlessly walks where the sidewalks don’t go. Almost all of the state fits that description —  one more artful reason to consider North Dakota truly “legendary.”

The facts — true facts — are all over the networks, the newspapers and the Web. This unaccustomed fame has blossomed just in time for the traditional launch of the tourism marketing season. If old Sen. Bill Langer was right that “all publicity is good publicity” (so long as the names are spelled right), tourism promoters can go home right now. All those doggone out-of-staters have already heard all about North Dakota by now! The Legislature obviously need not appropriate one more penny for additional advertising. Kudos to the state’s leaders for a job well done!

“Friendly” North Dakota, you’ve got some ’splaining to do.

5 thoughts on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — ‘Friendly’ North Dakota, You’ve Got Some ’Splaining To Do”

  • Jill Denning Gackle January 18, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Was this by Nancy or Kevin? And can we reprint in the McLean County Independent, Garrison with credit?
    Jill Denning Gackle

    1. Jeff Tiedeman January 18, 2017 at 2:14 pm


    2. Nancy Hanson January 18, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Be my guest … and thanks.

  • Russell J. Myhre January 19, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    Great article, Nancy. As always, it is well written, well researched, and in the spirit of Jonathan Swift, reservedly satirical, as befits the supposed modesty of us North Dakotans. However, the reality of proposing to allow legislators’ mothers to mow down protesters on the highways of the State is a tad bit too close to Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”.

    Unfortunately, HB 1203 is not the only bill which is intentionally and specifically a response to the NoDAPL protests. The North Dakota Legislature is being deluged with a plethora of bills which pretty much lay waste to the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights and will, if enacted, ensure that North Dakota will become known all over the world as the Mississippi of the North when the history of civil rights protests is written.

    Do you ever read those internet articles that list crazy laws in each state? Well, North Dakota is trying to go for a record. Here is a listing of some other bills which have been introduced into the North Dakota Legislature which are aimed, post-protest, against the NoDAPL protests.

    SB 2246 creates a penalty for something called “failure to vacate”. No, this is not an advertisement for constipation medications. Failure to vacate occurs after a law enforcement officer orders an individual to vacate public or private property or an “environmentally sensitive area”, an area defined to mean property which MAY experience flooding, blizzard, or other hazardous natural disaster, which pretty much includes all of North Dakota. That penalty apparently allows the law enforcement officer, not a judge, to fine the individual with a $5,000 fine for each violation. The failure to vacate occurs if the scofflaw trespasser unreasonably dawdles after being told to leave.

    HB 1304 prohibits individuals from wearing masks on streets and highways, public property, or at demonstrations. There are exceptions for children wearing Halloween costumes, guys playing Santa Claus, for actors, law enforcement officers, and a few others. The penalty calls for up to a year in jail. North Dakota used to have a similar law which targeted the Ku Klux Klan, but apparently this new law is required so Morton County can charge Natives wearing makeshift gas masks at the Cannonball Bridge with additional crimes when they are being tear gassed.

    Just so Morton County’s coffers do not get not too depleted as a result of the NoDAPL protests, HB 1332 provides an additional penalty for Criminal Trespass to require a court to impose a “minimum fee of one thousand dollars” which is to be paid to the county where the arrest took place. This provides an incentive for Morton County to charge out even more protesters by creating another revenue source for political subdivisions. Perhaps we will finally be able to get some comprehensive property tax relief out of this bill.

    HB 1383 makes loitering a crime. Actually, this bill includes a definition for “loiter and prowl.” The language of this bill is almost a verbatim recitation of an old legal concept called “mopery with intent to gawk” (also sometimes called “mopery with intent to creep”). Yes, this concept actually exists in the law.

    Mopery has occasionally been put into use by police as a charge to bring when no other legitimate charge seems appropriate. In a legal context, mopery is used as a placeholder name to mean some crime whose nature is not important to the problem at hand. Mopery was used in the 1970’s in Columbus, Ohio, in 1970 to charge out counterculture hippies, and these charges were aggressively prosecuted by the prosecutor, Karl T. Chrastan. The hippies of the Sixties and the Seventies used to wear clothing which was sometimes reminiscent of traditional Native dress, so this seems like a good time to resurrect the crime of mopery by just updating the concept a little by calling it loiter and prowl.

    And we cannot forget HB 1193, which makes disorderly conduct a Class C Felony. Disorderly conduct is now a Class B Misdemeanor. In fact, this bill would allow a prosecutor to charge a separate felony for any underlying misdemeanor crime where there is an intent to cause the victim (the government or an individual) “economic” damage in the amount of $1,000 or more. Better be careful not to file a false report with the North Dakota Milk Board, which is a misdemeanor, at least if you have an intent to cause a grand worth of economic damage.

    One other comment is necessary. In your article, you referenced the out-of-staters, the so-called eco-terrorists (with appropriate attribution for that phraseology to Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney) who joined the NoDAPL protests. It should be noted that BOTH sides brought in mercenaries, if that is a proper term for those people on both sides of this conflict who are not from North Dakota. According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department Facebook site as of November 7, 2016, Morton County received the assistance of over 1,300 people from 24 counties and 16 cities in North Dakota, as well as assistance from law enforcement agencies in 9 different states. It is my understanding that more law enforcement mercenaries have been brought in since November. This is beginning to look like a proxy war in the Middle East.

    The irony of what is now a tragic situation is that most, if not all, of this disruption and controversy could have been avoided with a modicum of cultural sensitivity and outreach at the beginning. Now, rather than attempting to ratchet down the mistakes which were made at the beginning of these protests by the executive branch and which are currently playing out in the judicial branch (denials of Due Process, Speedy Trial, Right to Representation, etc.), the legislative branch of our State’s government appears to be attempting to demonstrate to the whole world that parochialism and ethnocentrism are a universal quality of this State’s representatives and its citizens.

    These are truly sad days, and historians will not treat this chapter of North Dakota’s history well.

  • Nancy Edmonds Hanson January 19, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks, Russ. This should be a blog post independently of the comments section.


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