A reminder of the Finnish story in Northern MN

Iron Range newsMPR NewsCut’s Bob Collins was on the Iron Range recently and stopped off along the back route at the Kalevala Hall near Kettle River. He’s got several pictures and observations in his post here.

Having just been up in Ely for the Great Northern Radio Show, I had my Finnish roots on my mind when I saw this post. Like many of the immigrant groups that came to the Iron Range at the turn of the 20th Century, Finns came to work in the mines. But unlike most of the groups, the Finns came with nearly full literacy and with a desire to organize unions. This lead to an unsuccessful strike in 1907 and a blacklist that prevented anyone with a Finnish name from being hired at the mines for several years. Rather than leaving, the Finns ended up settling places like Kalevala in Carlton County, or Cherry and Zim in St. Louis County, or Balsam Township in Itasca County, or the forests around Embarrass and Ely.

Over the weekend, I read with interest a 1920 news item about a Finnish moonshiner captured near Tower. The fact that he possessed an IWW membership card was referenced with derision (the International Workers of the World, or “wobblies,” staged another Finn and Slav-led strike in 1916), as was his Finnish heritage. The story was written in a voice that reminds one of the way Middle Easterners were described after 9/11, or African Americans in the 1950s.

Never forget the human race’s ability to exclude and hate, and its ability to overcome that same exclusion and hatred.

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