Why Minnesotans are all wrong about 'the Dakotas'
For too long, Minnesotans have remained ignorant when it comes to their neighbors to the west. There seems to be something about North Dakota and South Dakota — two singular and separate states — that the hot-dish fanatics of the North Star State just don't get.
Those who hail from those states have some sympathy.
The battle for supremacy between South Dakotans and North Dakotans has been a long, hard-fought and well documented one. President Benjamin Harrison resigned those states to eternal feuding in 1889, when he reportedly shuffled the papers around in signing them into the Union, making it impossible to know which state was first.
Because neither state can claim seniority, the battle continues — these days in the form of why-we're-better listicles on tourism blogs and errant kuchen recipes. But there is one thing that draws the residents of the two states together — being attacked by an outside enemy: namely, Minnesotans.
Star Tribune features columnist James Lileks (of Fargo, which is in North Dakota) and intern Jasmine Snow (of Huron, which is in South Dakota) explain how their respective state is distinct, unique — and better than the other one.
JL: When I first met Jasmine, I was dismayed to find that this charming, intelligent, talented person was from South Dakota — because that meant we had to be mortal enemies. But then the boss, a Minnesotan, said, "Eh, South Dakota, North Dakota, what's the difference?"
That's when Jasmine and I bonded instantly as Dakotans Against an Unthinking World —meaning Minnesotans, of course.
They just don't get us, do they?
JS: Obviously not. They refer to our two states as "the Dakotas," as if we were one monolithic, Midwestern land mass full of nothing but bison. Yeah, bison, you loon lovers. Not buffaloes.
JL: And what kind of people do they think we Dakotans are?
JS: I think there's a sense of elitism coming from Minnesotans.
Lileks and Snow wonder aloud if that elitism is just an act, if perhaps Minnesotans actually harbor envy for the two states on its western border.
Sure, Lileks and Snow admit, people in North and South Dakota might seem more road-weary and maybe not as social as residents of their neighboring state. That's likely because there's about 60 miles between towns — and a "town" may mean a VFW, a gas station/grocery store, two churches and four cars. Still, they agree that Dakotans are from extremely hardy stock. People from any other state would naturally be jealous.
JS: But Minnesotans should know that South Dakota rules.
JL: Wait a minute. We've got a national park in North Dakota. Lawrence Welk, Peggy Lee — all ours.
JS: Yeah? Well, South Dakota's got six national parks. (OK, some are monuments and memorials.) We also claim Laura Ingalls Wilder and Hubert Humphrey. (I know Minnesotans like to claim him, but he was ours first.)
JL: Well, you can have HHH and the gals in the gingham dresses churning butter. North Dakota has Teddy Roosevelt — the man and the national park.
JL: "Sturgis happens." I think I've seen that bumper sticker, right?
JS: Yup. It's on a banner, too.
JL: North Dakota also is superior to South because we are a top energy- producing state. Of course, that means we go through boom and bust cycles. When there's a boom, it can get kind of Wild West — sort of like how Deadwood used to be. You've been to Deadwood, right? I mean, it's in your state.
JS: I think so?
JL: But surely you've been to Mount Rushmore.
JS: Uh, I've never actually seen it. I guess that makes me a failed South Dakotan. Like a New Yorker who hasn't seen the Statue of Liberty.
JL: Well, have you been to any of the essentially cool towns in North Dakota, including Fargo and Grand Forks? Each of these towns has a little sidekick on the Minnesota side. No disrespect to Moorhead and East Grand Forks.
JS: So maybe we don't have a cool quotient in South Dakota, but we have something better: the World's Largest Pheasant, the Corn Palace and Wall Drug. Besides, who needs towns when you have the badlands!
JL: Ha! So do we! The North Dakota badlands are even more bereft than yours. We've got less color and more valleys.
JS: Bad-er lands, you might say.
JL: Well, I always say, if you're gonna have badlands, have them be bad.
JS: So have them be empirically dangerous and fraught?
JL: Precisely. As a matter of fact, I think "Empirically Dangerous and Fraught" is the official slogan of the North Dakota badlands.
JS: I'm sure that's on a banner, too.
Despite increasing urbanization in both states (yes, there are cities with populations above 10,000 in both states), James and Jasmine agreed that never being more than 15 minutes away from nature is unbeatable. Both Dakotas boast impossibly vast skies, seemingly endless prairies and grasslands — and an inability to be understood by outsiders.
And with that, they called the battle-to-be-best a draw. Even better, they figured out how to find common ground with Minnesotans: by agreeing that our three states are all way better than Wisconsin.