Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, April 09, 2021

If you live in North Dakota… Well, you’re an increasingly rare breed. The state is one of the nation’s leading population losers, and the situation is so acute in the northwestern part of the state that whole towns, depleted down to a dozen or fewer residents, are voting themselves out of existence.

Business and civic leaders are counteracting the trend by offering modern-day homestead packages: Free land to those willing to move in and put down roots. They’re even putting the word out on the Web. Despite this, the effort is hardly snaring the pioneering throngs:

The Web site lists 86 eligible towns and communities in northwest North Dakota, though by its own accounting nearly half of them are either unincorporated or ghost towns. Visitors to the site are invited to fill out and submit a questionnaire. [Northwest North Dakota Marketing Alliance exec Steve] Slocum says the site typically attracts about 20 “good” e-mail inquiries a week.

It is tough to say, exactly, how many families have actually picked up and moved to northwest North Dakota since all this began. There are no statistics, only anecdotes, and very few of those. Steve Slocum can list a few families, but even he gets a little fuzzy on whether all of them have actually moved to the area or merely intend to at some point. One thing he can tell you, though, with certainty and pride: a family from out West has moved to and is starting a business up in Crosby, the town where they’re giving away the free land. What’s more, that family, the Oehlkes, didn’t even take advantage of that offer. That, they will tell you, is not why they came.

Call me a snob of the densely-populated U.S., but I say there’s no sense in beating a dead horse. If people want to vacate, let them. And I can think of a replacement tenant far more reliable than burned-out urbanites from Colorado: The local Indian tribes. From what I can tell, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, aka Three Affiliated Tribes, seem to be the likeliest native claimants to that corner of ND.

I propose reverting all that emptied-out land back to the Native American tribes that used to live off it. Why not? If the inheritors of Manifest Destiny don’t want the spoils, then give it back to the original inhabitants. They can expand reservations, economically stimulate the land into casino/tourism developments, etc. It’s a win-win over otherwise perpetually distressed real estate.

I realize this opens up a can of worms over sovereignty. But heck, it’s only North Dakota. What else is anyone going to do with it?

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 04/09/2021 09:32:33 PM
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