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THAT REMINDS ME: We could have been ‘Dakota’ (or ‘Manitscolda’)

Marilyn Hagerty

A great debate was brewing in North Dakota 25 years ago. It was over the proposal to drop the North and change the name of the state to Dakota.

There was a resolution sponsored by Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, in the 1989 legislative session. It called for Congress to shorten the name to Dakota.

Mathern said Dakota speaks of “what we are most proud — the wholesomeness, the hospitality of our people.

“Words are important,” he insisted, “and this is the meaning of Dakota. Let us put our best foot forward. Let us express directly the part of our self image.”

Sheldon Green, editor of North Dakota Horizons magazine published by the Greater North Dakota Association, chimed in. He said Chrysler Corporation named a model of its Dodge line Dakota “because the name indicates dependability, ruggedness and strength.”

Not everyone agreed.

A Minot woman who testified against the bill in the legislature insisted, “North Dakota has been good enough for me for 74 years, so why change it now?”

Others weighed in. Jim Fuglie, then state tourism director, said telephone books in North Dakota’s four largest cities listed 27 businesses with North Dakota in their name. And 233 used just Dakota.

Fuglie told the joint constitutional revision committee, “It all boils down to marketing.”

Other backers of the name change said the word “North” connotes a cold, harsh climate and detracts from the word Dakota.

People in neighboring states chimed in with facetious remarks. A letter writer to a Montana newspaper suggested North Dakota be renamed Manitscolda. Other suggestions included Zipdacoatup, Nor Dakota and Uff Dakota.

Some in South Dakota said it didn’t matter whether they dropped North from Dakota because it would still be cold.

Bob Imrie of the Associated Press wrote, “Changing the name of North Dakota to simply Dakota is attracting much attention and reflects a growing mood within the state to dump the long-standing name.”

He pointed out it was coming at a time when the state was celebrating 100 years of history. The plan to change the name to Dakota passed the legislative committee by a vote of 7-3, then failed in the full Senate by a 36-15 vote.

“A state by any other name would be just as cold, the Senate decided Tuesday,’” The Herald reported.

But the debate continued. It would not go away. The sponsors argued, “The name was ours. They took it away from us 100 years ago.

“More than 100 years ago,” they insisted, “the railroad brought settlers to Dakota territory with a promise to settle new areas and start a new life. The people of northern Dakota fought against the change to divide the state and preserve the name of Dakota.”

Businesses were marketing the name Dakota and sponsors said Dakota was “a beautiful word and undeserving of colorless, unimaginative adjective preceding it.”

Take note, they said, of the success of Pride of Dakota products.

Their purpose was to change the name of this state during the Centennial year. Dakota can stand on its own after 200 years, they insisted.

Among those dragging their feet was Chris Allen, professor of communications at UND. He wrote a letter saying, “Perhaps as it gets more airing before legislators, the folly of the name will be seen.

“Here we are struggling with budgets we can’t meet, the effect of a drought, a bitter winter, high oil prices and an educational system teetering on its foundation.”

He ticked off costs of changing the name. And he concluded, “I am saying let’s get on with the important business at hand.”

A think tank hired by the Greater North Dakota Association said North Dakota needed a vision more than a change of name.