Booms and busts both change rural culture

Calumet, Minnesota  (Aaron Brown, 1998)

I’ve been looking to North Dakota a lot recently because the state is going through an oil boom and is getting fresh attention. People I know are moving there, in dribbles and drabs, to work the oil fields. And something about it reminds me a great deal of the mining booms that northern Minnesota’s Iron Range experienced in its past.

This post by Jim Fuglie is worth a read: “What happens to the culture once it’s over?” The piece quotes heavily from the writer Chip Brown who has the same name as my dad, but who is not my dad.

In thirty years of decline, some of it essentially a free fall, places like North Dakota and the Iron Range have gone through a great deal of cultural change. Now booms are occurring, like the one going on in western North Dakota and the one that stalwart mining supporters claim is possible here in northern Minnesota. But these are not preserving the culture; they’re accelerating its change.

The cultural change is way different. It is a little—no, a lot—harder to put a finger on. What is it that we are losing? Is it hunting and fishing? Is it gathering around round tables in small town cafes? Is it helping our neighbor change a tire? Is it dancing at the Lonesome Dove on Saturday night? Is it lutefisk and lefse church suppers? Is it sowing and reaping a crop? Are any of those things really so much different—or important—than what the Plains Indians gave up?

I’m not sure many modern residents of the Iron Range ponder how dramatically different life was here just 100 years ago, or how different yet life was just 50 years before that. Plains Indians, by the way, used to live here … in the woods. Just like me.

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