Minnesota Counties’ Actions on Refugee Resettlement 

Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, 23 already have issued consents to future refugee resettlements while another 8 have indicated they will be considering the issue in the near future and only one has refused to so consent. There is little word from the other 56 counties in the state although there is no legal requirement for them to take a position on the issue since not voting is deemed to be a negative vote and although the state’s refugee resettlement agencies has not been soliciting those counties that have had little prior experience with such resettlements.

Here is a review of the 31 that so far have indicated some position on the issue of refugee resettlement.[1]

Counties Saying “Yes”

Blue Earth County. [2] On December 17 the board of south-central Blue Earth County (population 64,000 with its county seat in Mankato, population 39,300, and home of Minnesota State University Mankato) joined the consenting list. It did so unanimously with almost no discussion. One of the commissioners afterward said, “We’ve always accepted refugees. This is nothing new.”

Brown County.[3] In late December, County commissioners unanimously voted to consent to resettlement. Its virtually all white population of 25,890 live immediately west of  the just mentioned Blue Earth County and the later mentioned Nicollet County. Its county seat is New Ulm.

Clay County.[4] On December 17, County commissioners unanimously voted to resettlement. With a population of nearly 59,000 people, it abuts North Dakota with a county seat in Moorhead (population 38,000) and is home for four institutions of higher learning.

Cook County.[4a] On January 14, the County Board unanimously voted to accept more refugees. Its Chair, Myron Bursheim, said, “I see this as a symbolic thing. My intention is to be welcoming.”

Commissioner Dave Mills said he’d never received more email feedback on an issue in the North Shore county, all in support. “I see the issue from a practical and principled standpoint. I don’t think it’s going to directly affect our finances or operation. Out of principle, this is what our community values.” Commissioner Virginia Storlie added, “We would do the best we can with folks who need help.”

Cook is the northeastern tip of the state, colloquially called “the Arrowhead,” pointing at Canada on the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior. Its population is 5,393 (White 85.0%; African American 1.0%; Native American 8.5%; Asian 0.9%; Latino 2.5%; other 2.1%),  and the county seat is charming Grand Marais.

Dakota County.[5]   An approval of consent on January 7 came from the board of  Dakota County, which has a population of 425,423  (77.7% white; 7.0% African-American; Latino 7.4%; Asian 5.2%; Native American 0.6%; and other 2.1%) in the south-eastern corner of the Twin Cities metro area with its county seat in Hastings.

Goodhue County.[6] On January 7, the Goodhue County Committee of the Whole, by a vote of 3-2, approved consenting to refugee resettlement. Although there was no time for public comment, there were many attendees, causing the meeting to be moved to the larger space of the courtroom. On the western banks of the Mississippi River, it has a population of 46,304 (White 91.8%; Latino 3.5%; Native American 1.5%, African-American 1.4%; Asian 0.7%; other 1.1% with its county seat in Red Wing.

Hennepin County.[7] On January 7, Hennepin with the city of Minneapolis is the state’s most populous county at 1.252 million (White 68.6%; African-American 13.6%; Asian 7.5%; Latino 7.0%; Native American 1.1%; Other 2.2%)in the central part of the state, by action of its County Board, approved consenting. Here are highlights of the “Whereas” paragraphs of its consent letter:

  • “Minnesota’s reputation for a strong economy and commitment to the social safety net has resulted in successful refugee resettlement since the 1800s.”
  • “Minnesota’s robust network of non-governmental resettlement agencies works with the federal government to resettle refugees, including resettlement in Hennepin County.”
  • “1,345 refugees have been resettled in Hennepin County over the last five years.”
  • “The breadth of countries and regions of origin resettling in Minnesota continues to expand and includes Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Europe, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tanzania, and Vietnam.”
  • “The success of refugee resettlement in Hennepin County has helped affirm the county’s status as an urban center of international importance.”

Kandiyohi County. As noted in a prior post, on December 3, 2019, Kandiyohi County in western Minnesota was the first to consider this issue when it voted, 3-2 to consent to refugee resettlement.

Mower County.[8] In early January, the County commissioners unanimously voted to authorize consent. In the southeastern part of the state bordering Iowa, its county seat is Austin, famous as the headquarters for Hormel Foods. Its population is 40,011.

Murray County.[9] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state with its county seat in Slayton, it has a population of 8,725 (93.8% white, 3.6% Latino. 1.1% Asian and 1.5% other.

Nicollet County.[10] This county is just north of the previously mentioned Blue Earth County and on the same date (December 17), also consented with a County Board vote of 4-1. One of the affirmative votes came from Commissioner Terry Morrow, who  said all refugees that arrive are thoroughly vetted by the federal government, confirming they are fleeing war, genocide or severe poverty while Commissioner Jack Kolars called refugees “‘new Americans,’ who follow in the footsteps of past groups of refugees and immigrants who often faced discrimination and persecution when they arrived and went on to be productive citizens. And he said current newcomers are working in the area in large dairy farms, shingling roofs and in food-processing plants. ‘In many cases they’re doing work others won’t do.’”

Nicollet County has a population of 34,200 (92.3% white; 3.7% African-American; 0.5% Native Americans and 3.5% other), and its county seat of St. Peter is the former capital of the state and the home of Gustavus Adolphus College.

Nobles County.[11] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state and bordering Iowa and South Dakota, this county has a population of 21,900 (white 58.2%, Latino, 28.4%, Asian, 7.1%, , Other 0.1%)/African-American, 5.4%. Its county seat is Worthington, which recently has received a lot of attention due to its unusual ethnic diversity, as discussed on this blog.

Olmsted County.[12] On December 6, the County’s Administrative Committee unanimously approved a consent to resettlement. The County Board chair, Jim Bier said, “It’s stuff we are doing already.” A county official stated 30 new refugees already had been settled in the county in 2019 while an official for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota said that in 2018, 26 individual refugees came to Olmsted County from other countries. The county in the southeastern part of the state has a population of 144,200 (white, 85.6%; Asian, 5.4%; African-American, 4.8%’ and Latino, 4.2%. Its county seat is Rochester, which is famous for the Mayo Clinic.

Otter Tail County.[13] On December 16, the Commissioners voted to consent to resettlement. It is located in the west central part of the state on the continental divide with a population of 58,300 (white 97.1%; Latino, 1.7%; and other 1.2%; the county seat is Fergus Falls.

Pipestone County.[14] On January 7, this county joined others in consenting to resettlement. The county seat has the same name and the county’s population is 9,600 (white 96.7%; African-American 1.5%; Latino 0.7%; Native American 0.5%; other 0.6%. It borders South Dakota in the southwestern part of Minnesota.

Pope County.[15] On January 7, the County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved to consenting to resettle refugees. “While all board members agreed that they would be surprised if they were asked to host refugees, all of them were more than willing to approve an affirmative letter saying the county would accept refugees. ‘We should be ready to help,’ said Commissioner Larry Lindor.” After the item passed, Chair Gordy Wagner told his fellow board members, “I am proud of you all. Thank you.”

Located in the west-central part of the state with Glenwood as its county seat, Pope County’s population is 11,097 (White 95.9%; African-American 0.5%; Native American 0.4%; Asian 0.6%; Latino 1.5%; Other 1.1%).

Ramsey County.[15a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to refugee resettlement. The Board Chair, Toni Carter, said, “We recognize that refugees and foreign-born residents are an important part of Ramsey County. It’s important we honor and respect all who are among us.” Similar words came from Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo: “For me this is a celebration of our good work and the good work of our refugee communities. We have all benefited from having refugees in our community.” Another Commissioner, Victoria Reinhardt, said that, aside from Native Americans, nearly all Americans can trace their roots to immigration. “I am glad this country welcomed my German and Irish ancestors. That is what makes this place rich.”

The county, which includes the state’s capitol in St. Paul, accepted 4,215 refugees from 2015 to 2019. In the past year, the county accepted 71% of all refugees who initially settled in Minnesota. Moreover, avout 16% of its overall population of 508,639 is foreign-born.The composition of itsl population is White 61.4%; African American 12.6%; Native American 1.0%; Asian 15.3%; Latino 7.6%; Other 2.1%..

Rice County.[16] In early January, the County’s commissioners voted to authorize consent. Located in the southeastern part of the state with a county seat in Faribault, it has a population of 66,523 (White 89.0%; African-American 5.4%; Asian 2.1%; Native American 0.4%; Other 5.1%).

Sherburne County.[17] In December, the Commissioners for this County voted to issue consent. Located only – miles northwest of Minneapolis in the central part of the state, it has a population of 96,036  (white 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.9%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; other 1.4%). The county seat is Elk River.

Steele County.[18] A consent letter was authorized by the County Board. Located in the southeastern part of the state, just south of Rice County, its county seat is Owatonna. Its population is 36,887 (White 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.7%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; Other 1.6%.

Washington County. [18a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to resettlement at its meeting in the county seat of Stillwater. This county sits on the west bank of the St. Croix River across from the State of Wisconsin and east of Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul. Its population is 236,114 (White 82.2%; African American 4.9%; Native American 0.5%; Asian 6.2%; Latino 4.3%; other 1.9%).

Watonwan County.[19] On January 7, the County Board, apparently unanimously, approved a letter of consent to refugee resettlement. This county is located in the south central part of the state and south of the previously mentioned Brown County and west of Blue Earth County, and its county seat is St. James.  Its population is 10,980 (White 71.0%; African-American 1.3%; Native American 1.3%; Asian 1.2%; Latino 25.2%).

Future Consideration by Other Counties

 Lyon County.[20] On January 7, the Lyon County Board, after discussion, voted to postpone the vote on the merits.

Stearns County.[21] On January 7, the Board of Stearns County,  with its county seat of St. Cloud, 66 miles northwest of Minneapolis. But their vote was to postpone consideration of the merits.

Commissioner Steve Notch said he still had too many unanswered questions and wanted to hear from the public and other experts. He lamented equating humanitarian concerns with economic ones. Commissioner Joe Perske, on the other hand, said it was “imperative” that the county decide the issue immediately. “The question I hear today is, are we a welcoming community or not?”

It should also be noted that St. Cloud, the county seat and largest city in the country, over the last several years has had major controversies over the large number of Somali refugees and immigrants who have resettled there.

St. Louis County.[22] Also voting to postpone consideration of the merits on January 7 was the Board of St. Louis County, population 200,200 (white, 94.9%; Native American 2.0%; Black, 0.9%; and Other, 2.2%) in the northeastern part of the state with its county seat in Duluth (population 85,900 on the southwest tip of Lake Superior).

After a heated debate for 1.5 hours with a standing-room only crowd, the county board voted, 4-3, to postpone a vote on the merits until May 26.

The majority commissioners on that vote represented people on the Iron Range and more rural areas who said they wanted more time to consider the implications of allowing such resettlement while the minority represented Duluth and other cities in the county. The minority on that vote included religious and social justice leaders, local Northland politicians, former sponsors of refugees, and one Northland refugee whose family was from Serbia and who had lived his early life in an Austrian refugee camp.

Another commissioner representing the city of Hibbing (population 16,400) said refugees were still welcome in the county. “We closed no doors.”

Five Other Counties.[23] Becker, Dodge, Ramsey, Scott and Winona counties are expected to consider the resettlement issue in the near future.

County Saying “No”

Beltrami County.[24] So far this is the only county to reject such resettlements. It occurred on January 7, when the County Board In the north-central part of the state voted 3-2 to refuse to provide its consent. This county has a population of 44,442 (2010 census), 76.9 % of whom are white, 20.4% Native American, 0.4% black and 2.3% other. Its county seat is Bemidji (population 12,431).

One of the speakers favoring consent was a member of the Red Lake Nation, who said, “If you’re not a Native American from this area, we all have origin stories. I think most of the people here today are re-settlers. It just seems un-American to me to say that “You’re not welcome.” [25]

This vote was largely symbolic: This county has not resettled refugees for years and is not being targeted by refugee agencies for resettlement anytime soon. In addition, its low population and far northern location make it an unlikely destination. In any event, its rejection of resettlement received national news attention and may have motivated some of the previously mentioned 19 counties to say “Yes.”

Subsequently, a Bemidji business owner/operator and the daughter of World War II refugees, Monika Schneider, lamented the bad publicity the county has received. She said, “We should be so lucky to have a few young, energetic [refugee] families choosing to rebuild their futures in our tundra-adjacent paradise.” She concluded, “Bemidji is loaded with beautiful, loving, open-minded people of all backgrounds. I relocated here from a big city and there is no place I’d rather be. We who live, work and raise our families here are kind, generous, creative, hardworking, dedicated and resourceful people, committed to supporting our community in many lovely ways. We all value our sense of place and our great outdoors. Our downtown is vibrant and growing. We’re eager to offer our expertise for your enjoyment. As this story evolves, the entrepreneurs of Bemidji are here at work, ready to welcome and serve you, whoever you are.” [26]

 

 

 

Conclusion

 Although there is no requirement for any county to consider this issue, we will wait to see whether any of the other 59 counties in Minnesota take any action in this regard.

A broader analysis of this situation was provided in a Washington Post article.[27]

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[1] The most comprehensive analysis of the positions on this issue of the Minnesota counties are by Greta Kaul: As Minnesota counties vote on accepting refugees, here are the counties where refugees have actually moved in the last decade, MINNPOST (Jan. 9, 2020) and by Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020)   Thanks to these journalists for their contributions. Population data (July 1, 2018 estimates) for the counties is available on the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Quick Facts” website; any corrections to the ethnic percentages would be greatly appreciated.

[2] Krohn, Blue Earth, Nicollet counties vote to continue accepting refugees, Mankato Free Press (Dec.17, 2019).

[3] Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] See n.3.

[4a] Slater, Cook County opens door with refugee consent, Duluth News Tribune (Jan. 14, 2020); Slater, North Shore county gives unanimous consent to future refugee resettlement, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[5] See n.3.

[6] Fergus, Goodhue County approves refugee resettlement, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 7, 2020);

[7] Hennepin County Board Minutes (Jan.7, 2020); Hennepin County, Letter of Consent for Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020).

[8] See n.3.

[9] See n.3..

[10] See n.3.

[11] See n.3.

[12] Petersen, Olmsted County will remain open to refugees, Post Bulletin (Dec. 7, 2019)

[13] See n.3.

[14] See n.3.

[15] Rapp, County to accept refugees if asked, Pope County Tribune (Jan. 13, 2019)

[15a] Vezner, Ramsey County votes to accept more refugees. It already accepts most in MN, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[16] See n.3.

[17] See n.3.

[18] See n.3.

[18a] Washington County votes to continue accepting refugees, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 14, 2020).

[19]  Anaya, Watonwan County provides consent to federal government for refugee resettlement, St. James Plaindealer (Jan. 10, 2010); Watonwan County Board, Agenda (Jan. 7, 2019).

[20]  See n.3.

[21] Rao, Minnesota counties continue to weigh refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020); Rao & Galioto, Minnesota county votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[22] See n. 21; Slater, St. Louis County delays refugee resettlement vote to May, Duluth Tribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[23] See n.3.

[24] Liedke, UPDATED: Beltrami County votes no to accepting refugees, Bemidji Pioneer (Jan. 7, 2020); Assoc. Press, Northern Minnesota County Bans Refugee Resettlement, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2020); What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020); Kelly, What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Some residents say refugees would just make Beltrami County’s struggles worse, StarTribune (Jan. 11, 2020).

[25] Apparently Appomattox County in Virginia also has voted against such resettlement. See Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020).

[26] Schneider, Reflections from a Beltrami County businessperson, StarTribune (Jan. 15, 2020).

[27] Sacchetti & Morrison, North Dakota county accepted refugees, but the debate is far from over, Wash. Post (Jan. 8, 2020).

 

Rural Minnesota Endeavoring To Attract Younger People  

As noted in prior posts, many rural parts of the U.S., including Minnesota, have aging and declining populations that present many problems for the regions.[1] But there are hopeful signs that this trend may be reversing.

“The Blandin Foundation (Grand Rapids, MN) has found evidence of growing interest in small-town Minnesota: A study earlier this year showed more rural Minnesotans are staying put, with fewer considering moving to an urban area. Yet more urban residents — those in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Mankato, Moorhead, Rochester and St. Cloud — are considering moving to rural areas. The top reason they cited? Quality of life.”

This conclusion is supported by a University of Minnesota Extension rural sociologist, Ben Winchester, who said, “Rural Minnesota towns aren’t just experiencing a ‘brain drain’ of people in their 20s but also a ‘brain gain’ of people 30 to 49 years old. The next five, 10 years are going to be a big wave of change across rural Minnesota as we welcome a new generation. It’s good news for our small towns.”[2]

Now some rural towns in Minnesota are responding to those problems by developing programs to attract younger people to move and establish their homes. These newcomers are “all members of a growing migration of people in their 30s and 40s moving to rural Minnesota—a movement that foundations, nonprofits and local entities are hoping to boost even further with new strategies to recruit  and retain newcomers.”[3]

Here is an account of at least some of those programs.

Fergus Falls, Minnesota[4]

Fergus Falls is a town in and the county seat of Otter Tail County in the west central part of the state. The town’s estimated population in 2017 was 13,138, while the County’s was 58,812. The town was incorporated in the late 1870s and is situated along the dividing line between the former great deciduous forest of the Northwest Territories to the east and the great plains to the west, in a region of gentle hills, where the recent geological history is dominated by the recession of the glaciers from the last great Ice Age, with numerous lakes and small rivers.

In the mid-19th century the town and area’s initial settlers were Norwegian immigrants and Union soldiers returning from the Civil War, many of whom became farmers (wheat and corn in the western plains and dairy and hogs in the eastern hills and forests). In the 1950s Interstate Highway 94 was built along the western edge of the town, enhancing the mobility of the town’s residents with many young people leaving town to attend college and not returning.

Now the West Central Initiative Foundation in Fergus Falls is touting Otter Tail County as the place to live and supporting several ways to draw more young professionals to fill job openings and have children to fill classrooms. The Foundation’s CEO, Anna Wasescha, said. “We want to be sure our region of Minnesota is vibrant and sustainable.”

This Foundation began a marketing campaign called “Live Wide Open in 2016 to share stories about why residents are moving from the Twin Cities or other states. . . [It] holds ‘welcome home’ events for natives, hoping to persuade them to return, and also helped fund a nonprofit, the Glenwood Lakes Area Welcome Center, to expand a welcoming program and start a newcomer group.” The Otter Tail County helps these efforts with a  “rural rebound initiative coordinator,” who “tracks data and creates videos and social media posts promoting the county’s 24 communities to show millennials and Gen X-ers there’s a vibrant, affordable life with job openings — and no congested commute.” The county’s coordinator, Erik Osberg, said, “Rural isn’t dying; it’s changing, and it’s changing for the better.”

Osberg also helps organize a “grab-a-bite program” in Fergus Falls, pairing residents with newcomers to help make a friend and learn about the community, and puts on a concert on a frozen lake in the winter to showcase the county to Fargo and Twin Cities visitors. “If we’re going to win the recruiting battle … we need to be the most welcoming community in the state.”

One newcomer couple four years ago moved from the Twin Cities to Fergus Falls when they had their first child. The mother said they wanted smaller school class sizes and a quality of life like the one she had growing up in rural North Dakota; plus, her husband can work remotely for a Minnetonka, Minnesota software company. The mother now works as the  County’s community development director, tracking the ‘rural rebound’ through the county’s growing population and increasing kindergarten class sizes. “It’s amazing how many people we meet with similar stories.”

Another newcomer and mother, Ruth Rosengren, helped launch Fergus Falls’ first co-working space this summer while working remotely for a California-based web development company. “I hope more people see … Fergus Falls as a viable place to live without giving up a job you want,” she said.

Willmar, Minnesota[5]

In the southwestern part of the state, Willmar historically was a largely white, Lutheran, Scandinavian town. Now, however, with a population of 19,610 (2010 Census), t is very diverse with its high school having students from 30 other countries speaking at least four foreign languages. In response the high school has two foreign-language cultural liaisons to work with the students and teachers, and local businesses have created an entrepreneurship program for all the students and a Community Integration Center.

Mankato, Minnesota

In Mankato, a small city of approximately 43,000 in the south-central part of the state, local “businesses found that young professionals without  a social connection left within two years.” So the local chamber of commerce “announced a new program matching a resident with a newcomer.”

Last year Mankato’s local newspaper published an editorial, saying, “Here, in the south-central area of the state, we have seen . . . reliance on a diverse workforce both in small cities and in the regional center of Mankato. Meat plants in St. James, Madelia, Butterfield and Windom [smaller cities in southwestern Minnesota] depend heavily on minority workers. Mankato manufacturing plants also hire immigrant workers and a number of immigrants have become small-business owners.”

The editorial ended with these comments: “Population projections predict that as baby boomers retire, enough workers won’t be available to fill the vacant jobs in Minnesota. Our newest segments of population are going to be key to keeping our businesses going. And a continuing tradition of strong public education in Minnesota, with the financial support it deserves, should help train those workers of today and tomorrow.”

Worthington, Minnesota

Katy Kouba and her husband recently moved to Worthington, Minnesota in the southwest corner of the state in order to raise their three kids in a smaller community after living on both U.S. coasts. She said, “It was a leap of faith, “ but we “wanted the life-style that rural Minnesota had to offer. I love the connection in a small town.”  She now works as the community concierge helping other new residents be integrated into the town’s life.

As recounted in a prior post, Worthington’s population has surged from less than 10,000 in 1990 to 13,000 today with a median age of under 36 and foreign immigrants constituting roughly one-third of the population and owning more than 25% of the town’s businesses.[6]

Other Programs

 Escapees from Chicago to Ely, Minnesota near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Canada were Tony Moskowitz and his family. “I feel like I am on permanent vacation,” he said while running his business from his home.

Ely is also part of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, where in 2015 a group of young adults started the nonprofits ReGen to “help retain young professional by organizing social events like snowtubing and game night while fundraising to revamp towns.

 The Northwest Minnesota Foundation of Bemidji in the northwestern part of the state, is making grants to cities for amenities that attract families — from trails to maps of attractions.”

In Winona in the southeastern part of the state, Project FINE “has a monthly event for neighbors to get to know one another.”

Conclusion

According to The Wall Street Journal, young professionals moving from large metropolitan areas to smaller cities and towns is happening across the U.S. Such workers are “fueling a renaissance in U.S. cities that lie outside the major job hubs. People who do their jobs from home, freelance or constantly travel for work are migrating away from expensive urban centers such as Los Angeles and San Francisco toward cheaper cities including Boise; Denver; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Ore.” This has meant that the smaller cities and towns are starting to see fast-rising home prices and traffic congestion.[7]

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[1] See, e.g., More Warnings of the Problems Facing U.S. Aging, Declining Population  (Aug. 14, 2019).

[2] Univ. MN Extension, A rural brain gain migration.

[3] Smith, Small cities seeing ‘rural rebound,’ Star Tribune (Sept. 1, 2019).

[4] Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Fergus Falls Chamber of Commerce; Otter Tail County, Minnesota, Wikipedia.

[5] Additional Support for U.S. Needing More Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2019); Willmar, Minnesota, Wikipedia.

[6]  Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 5, 2018).

[7]  Eisen, Workers Are Fleeing Big Cities for Smaller Ones—and Taking Their Jobs With Them.,W.S.J. (Sept. 7, 2019).

Outstate Minnesota Newspaper Stresses Need for Immigrants

Mankato is a regional center of nearly 41,000 people in south central Minnesota. Its newspaper,The Mankato Free Press. has endorsed the importance of immigrants in the rural parts of the state. It said in an editorial, “Here, in the south-central area of the state, we have seen . . . reliance on a diverse workforce both in small cities and in the regional center of Mankato. Meat plants in St. James, Madelia, Butterfield and Windom [smaller cities in southwestern Minnesota] depend heavily on minority workers. Mankato manufacturing plants also hire immigrant workers and a number of immigrants have become small-business owners.”[1]

Moreover, they are “the only population group still growing in Minnesota, according to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit policy research organization based in Mankato. The Minnesota State Demographic Center says the percent of Minnesota’s population represented by people of color (those self-identifying as one or more races other than white, and/or Latino) is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent by 2035.”

“So no matter what people’s level of acceptance of diversity is on a personal level, the reality is that the economy needs immigrants — and always has. Hoping young people will return to their rural hometowns after college to work is not happening, at least not in numbers needed to keep communities viable.”

“Population projections predict that as baby boomers retire, enough workers won’t be available to fill the vacant jobs in Minnesota. Our newest segments of population are going to be key to keeping our businesses going. And a continuing tradition of strong public education in Minnesota, with the financial support it deserves, should help train those workers of today and tomorrow.

This editorial was prompted by recent remarks by Neel Kashkari, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and by Greg Raymo, a Worthington, Minnesota banker. Kashkari said, “immigrants are helping [Worthington] grow, something many communities in rural parts of the state can only hope for’ while Raymo had “estimated immigrants own more than a quarter of the businesses operating in that community. ‘If we embrace it, it’s what’s going to help rural Minnesota grow again,’ said . . . Raymo.”

This editorial reiterates points made in previous posts to this blog.[2]

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[1] Editorial, Our view: Immigrants needed for healthy economy, Mankato Free Press (July 14, 2018).

[2] E.g., More Immigrants Needed in U.S., dwkcommentaries.com (June 23, 2018).

President Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the Military Commission’s Convictions and Sentences of the Dakota Indians

President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln

Before he participated in the U.S. Military Commission’s convictions and sentences of the Dakota Indians, President Abraham Lincoln was involved the U.S.-Dakota War itself in August-September 1862.[1]

Lincoln reentered this drama on October 14th at a Cabinet meeting when Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, read aloud a report from General John Pope that the War was over and that the Army held about 1,500 Dakota prisoners. “Many, Pope said, “are being tried by military commission for being connected in late horrible outrages and will be executed.”[2]

Lincoln and the Cabinet were upset with Pope’s apparent plan to execute many of the captives, and three days later Pope was directed that there be no executions without the President’s approval.

Roughly three weeks later (on November 8th), after the completion of the military commission trials, Lincoln received a telegram from Pope containing a list of the 302 Dakota men who had been convicted and ordered to be hung.[3]

Immediately (on November 10th) the President by a telegram put all of these convictions on hold pending his Administration’s review of these convictions. Lincoln instructed Pope to submit the “full and complete” trial records for these cases to the President along with any materials that might indicate which of the men were the most guilty along with a “careful statement” regarding the commission’s judgments.

This instruction annoyed Pope, who responded the next day not with a “careful statement,” but with a vehement objection to the order. According to the General, “the only distinction between the culprits is as to which of them murdered  most people or violated most young girls.” Moreover, Pope said, “The people of this State [of Minnesota] . . . are exasperated to the last degree, and if the guilty are not all executed, I think it nearly impossible to prevent the indiscriminate massacre of all the Indians–old men, women and children.”

Pope reiterated these sentiments on November 24th when he urged the President to make a speedy decision. He warned, “Organizations of inhabitants are being rapidly made with the purpose of massacring these Indians.”

Exactly what the presidential review would entail was not immediately clear. Lincoln contemplated setting guidelines for executing “only a part” of the 302 men and sending the cases back to Minnesota for an “officer on the ground” to make case-by-case designations. But on December 1st Joseph Holt, the Judge Advocate General, advised the President that the power of review could not be delegated.

Therefore, that same day (December 1st), the President asked two aides (George C. Whiting and Francis H. Ruggles) to make a “careful examination” of all the transcripts and identify those Dakotas who “had been proved guilty of violating females.” The aides soon responded there were only two who had been so convicted.

Lincoln was surprised so few rapists were among the 302 on death row. Therefore, the President asked his aides to make “a further examination” to identify “all who were proven to have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles.” Whiting and Ruggles did just that and reported that 38 additional Dakota men had participated in massacres. The report contained a brief summary of the proof against each man plus the transcripts of their trials.

The first man on the execution list was Joseph Godfrey, the escaped black slave who had been the first to be tried by the military commission. The summary of his case by Whiting and Ruggles said, “Engaged extensively in the massacres, and, though sentenced to be hung, recommended to have his punishment commuted to imprisonment for ten years, because of the valuable testimony and information furnished the commission.”

On December 5th or 6th Lincoln reviewed his aides’ report and trial transcripts. He then personally penned his execution order to Colonel Sibley with the names and trial numbers of 39 men to be executed on December 19th.[4] They were the 2 convicted for rape and 37 of the 38 men convicted for participation in massacres. The only one on the latter list of 38 who was not included on the execution list was Joseph Godfrey.

On December 11th in response to a Senate resolution, the President forwarded to the Senate the Whiting-Ruggles report, the trial transcripts and related materials. In his cover letter Lincoln referred to his aides’ list of 38 men convicted for participation in massacres, but said, “One of the [38 men] . . .  is strongly recommended by the [military] commission which tried them, for commutation to ten years’ imprisonment.” Lincoln, however, did not mention the name of this individual (Godfrey) or his black race. This review, Lincoln added, was done “to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other.”

Throughout this period, the President and his Administration were under great pressure to approve all of the ordered executions in addition to the pleas from General Pope.

Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey, who was running for election to the U.S. Senate in January 1863, urged the President to order the execution as soon as possible of all those condemned by the commission. “It would be wrong upon principle and policy to refuse this,” Ramsey said. “[Otherwise] private revenge would . . . take the place of official judgment on these Indians.”

Minnesota’s other public officials and newspapers echoed these sentiments as did letters, petitions and memorials submitted to the White House.

Virtually the only Minnesotans suggesting some mercy were Minnesota’s Episcopal Bishop Henry P. Whipple and other pastors.

Lincoln perhaps drew some comfort from a December 17th petition from 38 Dakota leaders that said “the bad [Dakotas] ought to be punished” and all “of the Indians who were engaged in killing the white men and women and children should be hanged.” The “good” Indians, on the other hand, should be “well treated” and permitted to return to their homes on the reservation.

On December 23rd, Lincoln directed the reprieve of one of the 39 to be executed as a result of a last minute plea by a Presbyterian missionary (Rev. Thomas Williamson) and his sister (and endorsed by Brigadier-General Sibley) on the ground that the certain evidence at the trial was unreliable.

Accordingly on December 26th, 38 Dakota men were hung to their death in Mankato, Minnesota.

The fate of the other 264 Dakota men (including Mr. Godfrey) who had been convicted and sentenced to death by hanging by the military commission was not addressed directly by President Lincoln. But they were not pardoned. Instead, they were transferred to a U.S. detention facility in Davenport, Iowa, where most of them spent the next three years. After they were released from detention, they were transferred to several reservations for the Dakota. Joseph Godfrey went to a Nebraska reservation where he lived until his death in 1903.[5]


[1]  As discussed in a prior post, On August 21, 1862, Lincoln’s focus on the worsening situation in the Civil War was interrupted by the news of the start four days earlier of the U.S.-Dakota War in southern Minnesota. About a week later the President reluctantly granted a de facto, indefinite extension of time for Minnesota to fulfill its quota for more troops for the Civil War so that the State could provide men to fight the Dakota War. In addition, on September 5th the President created a new military Department of the Northwest to be in charge of the Dakota War under the command of General John Pope.

[2] This post is based upon David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics Ch. VIII (Minn. HIst. Soc’y Press 1978, 2000, 2012) and Walt Bachman, Northern Slave Black Dakota:The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey at 221-22, 228-32, 239, 243-45, 252-56, 262-66,, 352-56 (Pond Dakota Press; Bloomington, MN 2013).

[3]  The commission had sentenced 307 Indians to be hung, but five were removed from the execution list before it was submitted to the President.

4 The original of the President’s order is at the Minnesota Historical Society. Davis, TWO Sioux War Orders: A Mystery Unraveled, Minn. History at 117 (Fall 1968). Through a  subsequent exchange of telegrams the date of the executions was postponed to December 26th. 

5 An evaluation of President Lincoln’s involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War and of legal issues relating to the commission trials and judgments will be the subjects of other posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commemoration of the150th Anniversary of the Hanging of the “Dakota 38”

Today (the day after Christmas) marked the sesquicentennial of the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota for their conviction of crimes committed in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.[1]

This solemn event was commemorated at the site of the hanging in what is now called Reconciliation Park in that city. Arvol Looking Horse, a Dakota/Lakota leader, said this event marked the ending of a long journey. “Today, being here to witness a great gathering, we have peace in our hearts — a new beginning of healing,” he said.

To dedicate a new memorial containing the names of the 38 men with a poem and prayer, Sidney Byrd, Dakota/Lakota elder, read the names of the 38 men in the Dakota language.  Byrd also said, “I’m proud to be with you today. My great-grandfather was one of those who paid the supreme price for our freedom.” Although originally sentenced to death , his great-grandfather’s sentence was commuted to imprisonment in Davenport, Iowa, where many died from horrible conditions.

Dakota riders, Mankato, MN 12/26/12
Dakota riders, Mankato, MN 12/26/12

The ceremony was joined by around 60 Dakota men who arrived on horseback from South Dakota and other Dakota men who ran from Fort Snelling. (The photo is by Pat Cristman in the Mankato Free Press.)

The Dakota people who helped plan the new memorial and the ride and run marked the anniversary by saying, “Forgive everyone everything.” Those words will be engraved in Kasota stone benches that will be placed around the new memorial next summer.

The Mayor of the city of Mankato read a proclamation declaring this the year of “forgiveness and understanding.”


[1] This post is based upon Tim Krohn, “Forgive everyone, everything,” Mankato Free Press (Dec. 26, 2012). The StarTribune for Minneapolis/St. Paul today re-published the New York Times‘ detailed report of the hanging from December 26, 1862.

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

In August 1862 war broke out between the United States and the Dakota Indians along the Minnesota River Valley in the southwestern part of the new State of Minnesota.[1]

The war was sparked by years of broken promises to the Indians, insults by the traders and starving Indian children and by an encounter on August 17th near the village of Acton. Four young Indian hunters, returning from an unsuccessful hunting trip, stopped at the village to see if they could get food from the settlers. An argument erupted, and the Indians killed five settlers.

Chief Little Crow

Early the next day the Dakota Indians at their nearby village deliberated and concluded that they had to go to war under the leadership of Chief Little Crow. That day they attacked and killed 20 traders and white settlers at the Lower Sioux Agency as well as 24 soldiers from nearby Fort Ridgely (20 miles west of the town of New Ulm).

Battle of New Ulm, Minnesota
Map of U.S.-Dakota War, 1862

This war lasted for the next six weeks with six key battles at New Ulm, Fort Ridgely, Birch Coulee and Wood Lake, Minnesota. In all 100 Indians and over 600 settlers and soldiers were killed.[2]

An estimated 20,000 settlers in this area fled to Mankato and St. Paul, Minnesota to escape the fighting. In addition, some went south to the adjoining State of Iowa.

Governor Alexander Ramsey

About half way through the War, on September 9, 1862, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey called a special session of the Minnesota Legislature to address the State’s dire situation. Over 1,000 people had been killed or wounded. Destruction spread out over the western frontier, which had been depopulated with people fleeing for safety. Agricultural losses were unknown. Transportation of supplies to all points west and north was almost impossible.[3

Governor Ramsey’s lengthy address that day to the Legislature contained twelve sections describing the situation and making a demand for action. The description of the situation before the outbreak of war included the following:[4]

  • Our “frontier settlements [have been] suddenly attacked and desolated by a treacherous foe, living unsuspected in our midst, whose first warning of hostility [came in the] indiscriminate massacre of men, women and children.” Further, the “circumstances of this outburst give it an aspect of wanton malignity and perfidy scarcely paralleled, if at all, in the tragic annals of Indian crime.”
  • Previously “the Sioux, or Dakota Indians of Minnesota had, as a tribe, lived in terms of unbroken amity and confidence with the citizens of this State, a friendship running back for more than a generation of traders and trappers. The depredations often committed by [Indian] individuals, even the murderous raids of [a band of Indians] . . . at Spirit Lake, in 1857 . . . did not disturb this general feeling of confidence in our Indian neighbors.”
  • “In return for their lands, . . . which they had voluntarily relinquished to the [U.S.] . . . by treaty, a home had been given them in the western part of the State, and munificent provisions made for their comfort, education, and reclamation to civilized pursuits.”

The Governor’s speech then set forth a detailed account of the war up to September 9th before he made the following chilling Demand or call for action:

  • “Our course then is plain. The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State.”
  • “The public safety imperiously requires it. Justice calls for it. Humanity itself, outraged by their unutterable atrocities, demands it. The blood of the murdered cries to heaven for vengeance on these assassins of women and children. They have themselves made their annihilation an imperative social necessity. Faithless to solemn treaty obligations, to old friendships, to the ties of blood, regardless even of self-interest when it conflicts with their savage passions, incapable of honor, or of truth or gratitude; amenable to no law; bound by no moral or social restraint;–they have already destroyed in one monstrous act of perfidy, every pledge on which it was possible to found a hope of ultimate reconciliation.”
  • They must be regarded and treated as outlaws. If any shall escape extinction, the wretched remnant must be driven beyond our borders and our frontier garrisoned with a force sufficient to forever prevent their return.”
After the end of the war, the U.S. speedily tried 392 Dakota Indians before a military commission in Minnesota. Of these, 319 were convicted, and all but 16 were sentenced to be hanged.[5]
Bishop Henry Whipple
President    Abraham Lincoln

Minnesota Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple was offended by what he thought were injustices in the trials and sentences. He, therefore, went to Washington, D.C. to plead for mercy from President Abraham Lincoln. The President was moved by this plea and after reviewing all the cases reduced the number of death sentences from 303 to 38 with the remaining 265 to be imprisoned.

Hanging the 38               Dakota Indians

On December 26, 1862 (the day after Christmas), the 38 were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota. This is still the largest mass execution on U.S. soil in U.S. history.[6]

Early the next year (1863) the U.S. Congress revoked all of the treaties with the Dakota Indians and passed a law banning all Dakota Indians from Minnesota.

Dakota Camp @                    Fort Snelling

In the meantime, in the Fall of 1862 the U.S. Army detained hundreds of Indian women and children and placed them in a stockade or concentration camp near the confluence of the Mississippi and  Minnesota Rivers and under the guard of Fort Snelling high on the adjacent bluff. An outbreak of measles killed 160 to 300 of those in the camp during the winter of 1862-1863.


[1] This post is based upon a six-part series in the StarTribune by Curt Brown, August 12-18, 2012. The series is available for only $2.99 as a downloadable e-book, In the Footsteps of Little Crow: 150 Years After the U.S.-Dakota War. There also is a Minnesota History Center website devoted to the War. Subsequent posts will discuss a contemporary settler’s comments on the War, this year’s sesquicentennial commemoration of the War and Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s October 7th worship service devoted to remembering the War and its consequences.

[2]  After the second battle of New Ulm, the wounded settlers and soldiers were treated by Dr. William Mayo, the subsequent co-founder of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

[3] Monjeau-Marz, Alexander Ramsey’s Words of War, 1 Minnesota’s Heritage 63 (Jan. 2010).

[4] Transcript of Governor Ramsey’s Address, 1 Minnesota’s Heritage 82 (Jan. 2010).

[5] There was little due process of law in the proceedings of this military commission, (Chomsky, The United States-Dakota War Trials: A Study in Military Injustice, 43 Stanford L. Rev. 13 (1990).)

[6] The 38 bodies were buried in a common grave near Mankato, but many of the cadavers were exhumed to be used for medical education. Dr. William Mayo had at least one such cadaver that he kept in his home for anatomy lessons for his sons.