Northern Plains

Light in the North

After months of darkness, the euphoric sense of relief from hours and hours of light lasts all spring and summer. The sun is constantly shifting when in the East it rises and where in the West it sets. The gift of this is that if you have an East or West facing window, the sun will only blind you in the morning / evening for about 3 weeks twice each year before it moves on.

Dolnstein, History, Luther, Northern Plains

Double Book Progress & Toxic Tourism

The Black Band: Finished draft 2 of chapter 3 and fired it off to my editor. Today I have a 3 hour Write-In with a colleague to work on chapter 4, in which Paul Dolnstein drinks a beer with Martin Luther.

The War with the Sioux: Today brings a Skype editing meeting with my co-translator.

Toxic Tourism: Apparently this is a thing. Toxic Tourism is a form of activist tourism where people pay to visit environmental disaster zones. These would be zones created by human actions – pollution in particular.

Bill Caraher notes that Toxic Tourism tends toward a less than helpful focus on “economically disadvantaged, minority, and marginalized communities which do not have the political standing to challenge unscrupulous producers or the location and precautions associated with dangerous and toxic industries.” Caraher talks about its impact on the Bakken oil patch here.


Letter to the Editor Re: North Dakota National Guard and Native Fans

Update: The Bismarck Tribune would require the ND National Guard to respond directly to their paper, so I have pulled my original letter. It would have been disingenuous to allow a letter to print questions to which the Guard has responded in another medium.


From Early This Morning: Native News recently printed a letter to the editor from me regarding what many fans observed at the Class B Basketball Championship. I stand by the version that Native News printed, however it was not the version I asked them to print. The printed version was written in the heat of the moment and was less than ideal for conversation.

The Bismarck Tribune will be printing the more useful version of the letter. I have provided it below. I have also included the North Dakota National Guard’s response to my letter. I appreciate the Guard’s immediate response via their Facebook page, specifically I find this line to be of value, “We will review our procedures to ensure that we never again create such a perception.”

Letter to the Editor

Why did the ND National Guard send two Guardsmen to dazzle the ND State Class B Boys Basketball Championship fans, giving full attention to one group of fans while ignoring the other?

At half-time, one Guardsman spent a good five minutes leading cheers, tossing recruiting goodies, and drumming up spirit for one team in the championship game. The other Guardsman was nowhere to be seen. Effectively, the National Guard snubbed the opposing team.

That team was Native, the Four Winds Indians. It was embarrassing to say the least; the blatant rudeness was shocking.

There may be a legitimate reason for this. If there is a reason, the ND National Guard did not explain it to the crowd. Instead they openly and unapologetically shunned the ethnic group that serves more heavily in the military than any other.

I spoke with a Four Winds fan, a man in his 50s, old enough to have some experience with the military. He had no idea why the Guard ignored his side of the arena. “You know, this kind of thing happens so often, you just get used to it. But whenever there’s a war, then they pay attention to us.” He thanked me for noticing.

I was appalled, and I was not the only one to notice this affront. The message that the Guard sent loud and clear – even if it was not the intended message – was that white kids are worthy of their time, and Indian kids are not.

This is curious when according to the Department of Defense Native American Heritage Month site, “historically, Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups.”  Is this a public, unashamed expression of racism? Without an explanation, what else are we to think?


North Dakota National Guard Response via Facebook

“A recruiter with the North Dakota National Guard was singled out in a recent letter to the editor of the Native News Online. A review of the circumstances surrounding this event revealed that it was a honest mistake by our recruiter. After completing the breakdown of his booth because it was the last game of the day, the recruiter quickly grabbed the remaining “give away” items and distributed them to the crowd that was nearest to him. The recruiter engaged the crowd with cheers and gave away the last few remaining items. We apologize that this created a perception that we were supporting one group of fans while ignoring the other. During the duration of the Class B Basketball tournament, our recruiters were in contact with all of the fans of all of the teams and distributed Guard-related items. This was in no way meant to be a display of favoritism, the recruiter simply ran out of items. We have nothing but respect for all of our Brothers & Sisters-in-Arms; we relish the relationship we have with our Native American Communities, as well as the schools and colleges within those communities. We will review our procedures to ensure that we never again create such a perception.”


The event addressed above in no way reflects on the game itself or on the players from either team, who have the utmost respect for one another, as was obvious from their embracing one another before and after the game.


Why I am OK with Wikipedia

I just posted the following to my classroom Cyber Cafes.

Many college professors ban Wikipedia because it is not peer reviewed, and we have no idea who the contributors to Wikipedia entries truly are. There is merit in these concerns, and you should indeed not cite it in any college work if you want an A in that course. Do not cite it in papers in my course because no history publication would accept Wikipedia or any other encyclopedia as a citation.

However, in my courses, you may cite it as a supplemental source beyond the 5 required citations in Discussions. While I can not speak to other fields, I find that most Wikipedia entries for History tend to be no less accurate than any other encyclopedia entries in peer reviewed or professionally edited publications such as Encyclopaedia Britannica where I write. 

Further, Wikipedia has value that other encyclopedias do not. Because it is crowd sourced, it does not follow authoritarian, conservative narratives as other encyclopedias and as textbooks have historically tended to do. By sheer volume, crowd sourcing means that Wikipedia receives far more interpretive analysis.

Take a look at the American Revolution Wikipedia entry. Along the top, next to the search box is an option to View History. Click on that, and you will see all of the edits that have ever taken place. You will see changes to the material on African Americans, women, and Native Americans. Farther back, there is contention over the use of the term “patriot” versus “insurgent” and “revolutionary” from British perspectives. I owe my awareness of this to Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens and to Bill Caraher of UND. Isn’t it wonderful that anyone can contribute to the conversation about how ethnic groups are represented, rather than solely people in positions of power?

Wikipedia is not without its flaws, but it is a far more democratic source than any other out there. It is also a living document. Errors tend to be corrected within minutes by other contributors, and after all, is not accuracy and as broad as possible a representation of the past what we are seeking?


Dolnstein, Luther, Workshopping a Novel. "The Hundred: A Novel of Young Luther and His World"

Things To Keep In Mind While Working On The Next Novel

  • If it is not central to the plot, do not include it.
  • If you must include it, change the plot.
  • Every chapter is its own story.
  • Tight, clean book. (There will be foul language as it is about Luther, peasants, and mercenaries. Clean here means clutter free.)
  • Keep the goals of the book ever in mind.
  • Do not explain. Rather, let the characters live the story. If you must explain, let the characters do it for you.
Dolnstein, History, Literary Project, Luther, Northern Plains, Village Arts

Book Updates

The War with the Sioux: Norwegians against Indians, 1862-1863 is with the publisher now. We are working on images and maps. The hope is a fall print date. The War with the Sioux is a collaborative translation of Karl Jakob Skarstein’s Krigen mot Siouxene: nordmenn mot indianerne, 1862-1863.

Voices from the Prairie is printing, as I understand it. Voices from the Prairie is a regional literary anthology.

The Black Band, the novel of Martin Luther and the Peasants’ War, is receiving all of my writing time now. I am adding several new chapters and have rewritten those I posted earlier to Scribd. I have hopes of being done by the end of the summer. We shall see. In the meantime, if I seem stranger than usual it is because I am in the 16th century.


Of Nightmares and Putin

A few days ago, I translated Bjorn Engesland’s “Dreams of Empire and Other Nightmares,” which appeared in Aftenposten, Norway’s leading newspaper. Today a friend and former Swedish military officer posted a link to Fredrik Antonsson’s blog on Estonia’s choice to celebrate its 97th birthday with a military parade as close as possible to Russia, its threatening neighbor. The US 2nd Cavalry as well as troops from Latvia, Lithuania, Holland, Spain, and Britain marched with Estonian troops to honor the day. Entitled “A Provocative National Day Celebration?” Antonsson’s blog, which I have posted in English, connects nightmares to Russian imperialism as it addresses the fears of a small nation that can not actually claim 97 years of independence.

Daniel Staberg, the aforementioned friend provides some context for the article, which mentions that Narva’s population is 96% ethnic Russian. Staberg explains that Narva, the town where the celebration was held, had been cleansed of its Estonian residents.

“The main reason for the lack of Estonians was the heavy fighting during the battle of Narva in 1944 during which the inhabitants were either evacuated by the Germans or fled on their own. Post war the Estonians were not allowed to return home as the Soviets planned to build a uranium processing plant there. Narva was declared a “closed town” and the few remaining Estonians removed.

In the end the plant was located in nearby Sillamäe and Narva returned to a more normal status but by then large numbers of Russians had been moved into Narva to get industrial developments started and this ‘ethnic’ transfer still effects demographics today.

Then there were the deportations which had an effect on the whole of Estonia including Narva.”

The independent Estonia has a strong connection to Sweden, even marching “in Swedish uniforms with Estonian national ensignia sewn on” in the early parades after they gained independence from the Soviet Union. Sweden also “donated huge amounts of equipment that belonged to brigades that were disbanded due to the end of the cold war.” Swedish officers, Staberg among them, trained Estonian and Latvian troops with this equipment.

Surprised that I had heard none of this in today’s news, nor anything on the military parade, I thought it important to provide an English version of Fredrik Antonson’s “A Provocative National Day Celebration?”

The Estonian national song is translated from the Swedish rather than from the Estonian. The original Estonian and English versions of it can be found online in much more poetic translations than I had time to produce. It might be interesting to compare it to English translations from the original Estonian. Wikipedia is not in favor I realize, but it suffices for our purposes of comparison if interested.

Link to the blog post in English:

Link to the blog post in Swedish: