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How one man went from petitioning against refugee resettlement, to now supporting it

Nick Wagner / The Forum

FARGO - When 40-year-old West Fargo resident Damon Ouradnik started an online petition to halt refugee resettlement in North Dakota, he never thought that two years later he would be inviting the same refugees he petitioned against into his home.

The online petition Ouradnik created titled "Stop refugee resettlement and Lutheran Social Services in North Dakota" would eventually lead to the creation of a controversial bill in North Dakota called HB 1472. The bill would have empowered state and local officials to halt resettlement, though after hours of testimony against it by immigrants and refugees, the Republican-led legislature downgraded it to a study of the impact of refugees in North Dakota.

"There's nothing racist in that petition at all," Ouradnik claimed at the time. "I'm just asking about our tax dollars."

In Fargo, questions about refugee resettlement have most recently been spearheaded by City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who recently faced recall efforts from several members of the FM Refugee Advisory Council. The effort to recall Piepkorn began in March 2017 after the commissioner began demanding to know how much resettling refugees here has cost local governments, implying they were responsible for more crime, but he wouldn't accept the answers given by local officials. The chairman of the recall committee says they are on track to collect enough signatures by May 8, 2017, to hold a special recall election.

At first glance, one would think a recall of Piepkorn, who carried out the requests of Ouradnik's online petition, would be a crucial blow to the questions Ouradnik wanted answered about the impact of new North Dakota refugees. Not so fast.

Since creating the petition two years ago, Ouradnik's opinion now differs all thanks to a worldwide group that has found its way to Fargo.

The group, called Narrative 4, partners natives of the area with an immigrant or refugee where they then partake in a two-day "story exchange." On the first day the partners tell each other a story from their own lives. The next day, each participant tells their partner's story in the first person, as if it was their own. 

The group was brought to Fargo-Moorhead by Concordia College Professor Dawn Duncan, who says the idea behind the group is to prevent racially-charged incidents from occurring. 

For Ouradnik, joining the group was not a simple decision. But despite his doubts, he agreed to give up a weekend to take part in Narrative 4.

The decision to do so would change his life forever. 

You can read the full story by the BBC by clicking here.