Oftentimes when meeting people for the first time when I was living in Washington DC, and after going through the formalities of name, workplace, education, etc, more often than not, I’d get: “I think you are the first person I have ever met from North Dakota.” Some people thought it was unique and had questions of “oh wow, tell me more about ND,” others you could really tell in their response was a heartfelt “Oh, I’m sorry” like I had been born in a prisoner of war camp, while others quickly moved on to other topics or people to talk with. Whatever their response, it sometimes served as a conversation starter to talk about Mt Rushmore, Canada, the Black Hills, or the movies: Dances with Wolves, or Fargo (yes none of which are in or were shot in ND). No blame intended, with approximately 9 people per square mile, famous North Dakotans like Lawrence Welk or John Burke, and publicity (thus far) that mainly focuses on the cold weather, it is understandable that one can live a pretty unsheltered life and still not know a whole lot about the state or its people. That said, I ran with the questions and saw them as an opportunity to hopefully dispel some myths and misconceptions about the state.
Where am I going with this, you may ask? Well, this morning i read a NYT article about Williston ND (about 40 miles from where I grew up). The article follows a few different people that have found themselves here for employment opportunities–mainly in the oil fields–and yet cannot find proper housing. The article describes in detail the conditions (horrible) that people coming here have seen, and yet the local government is fearful of over investing in housing options as it had been burned badly 20-30 years ago when the last oil boom went bust. The people and housing challenges that this article identifies definitely are here, and showcase a real problem that needs to continue to be heard and addressed. That said, when the media focus only on these types of stories about ND it reinforces some overgeneralized stereotypes, and is a little frustrating to those of us who feel that there is more to the state than just transient workers, mobile home parks and cold weather.