By Sabrina Hornung
Our opinion: Let our character and characters define us
It’s no secret that North Dakota is one of our nation’s least visited states, in fact I can think of a handful of folks I’ve chatted with in Fargo who have barely made it past Casselton. Politics and weather aside, there’s more than meets the eye in our beautiful state, and if you’re rolling your eyes you must be one of those who never made it past Casselton, you poor dear.
That means you’ve never experienced our lush river valleys, rolling plains of pothole slough country, the rugged beauty of the badlands and the scenic Little Missouri, nor navigated the tree-covered hills of the Pembina Gorge in Rendezvous country.
Unfortunately the most beautiful scenery can’t hide the ugliness of our state's politics. According to an AP article from June of this year, California added our state to their list of places where state-funded travel was banned due to discriminatory laws against members of the LGBTQ community.
Then again, our state didn’t cast itself in a very flattering light during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016 either. National news like that doesn’t necessarily help boost tourism, which is our third largest industry behind energy and ag. Sadly, that PR doesn’t make our state sound all that welcoming and is a poor representation of what we stand for and a pitiful depiction of North Dakota Nice.
Racism and homophobia aside, what can be done to encourage tourism in our state? Frankly I think our state tourism department could have saved the money they paid Josh Duhamel for the tourism campaign they launched in 2019 and let our state’s uniqueness shine, but what do I know, a January 2020 AP article reported that he’s renewing/renewed his contract. Then again, “North Dakota, more than meets the eye” has a nice ring to it and I guess if we’re at the point where we need a celebrity endorsement he’s clearly the guy for the job though I’d sure like to see him and Carson Wentz arm wrestle for that endorsement.
As Teddy Roosevelt would say, bully for him, but maybe we should weigh out our options…That campaign is as bland as our new logo.
In a world saturated by the instant gratification and overstimulation of social media, people crave authenticity instead of paid actors. We don’t need the man on the TV shilling for us. What if we celebrated those who are here and who are actively making a difference to attract, preserve, build, and celebrate our state? Why don’t we use our wit, charm and quirks to let people know we’re here? We have a reputation for being resourceful and our tourism campaign should reflect that.
At least one lighthearted national news story painted us in a favorable light as we continue to debate and make an attempt to get centered by determining where exactly the Geographical Center of North America is. Rugby may have thrown their weight around like a pile of rocks to get their trademark back, from their main contender, Bill Bender. Whether Bill intended to or not, he generated a discussion that went viral and attracted attention from press and academics from various parts of the country.
There’s something to be said about this story. Why would Rugby’s rock cairn and “Geographical Center” title be held so dear and even coveted, and what’s the deal with the world’s largest buffalo, sandhill crane, holstein cow or… turtle on a snowmobile?
One might see these monuments as none other than roadside kitsch but there’s more to it than that, they’re symbols and expressions of that area’s identity and with that being said we don’t need to physically build more of these (though I’m certainly not discouraging it). Maybe our identity is the thing that we need to focus on and explore before we lose it in a homogenized urban culture or sea of trends that will more than likely lose their luster faster than you can say “Tik Tok.”
What are the symbols that come to mind when you think of North Dakota? Who comes to mind when you think of North Dakotans? What places should our focus be directed on? What cultural traditions continue to be celebrated? What foodways are unique to our area? These are all things to celebrate and contemplate.
Then again, this may be coming from an unconventional traveller. I want character and characters. I want to experience the things and people that are truly unique when I travel; that is something that is organic and cannot be replaced or reproduced.
In a world of be this or be that, just don’t be generic.
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