To close out 2022, MPR News journalists shared memorable stories they covered throughout the year. It’s not an exhaustive summary of everything that happened in a year, but these stories stood out to our staff.
Many of the memorable stories we covered throughout the year were part of North Star Journey, our news coverage initiative celebrating the diverse communities and history found in Minnesota.
'Finndian?' 'Swanishinaabe?' Some Native people in northern Minn. reconnect with their Scandinavian roots
For me, this story really speaks to the unique sense of place in northeastern Minnesota, and the pride people have in this region, and in their roots. I’ve seen a lot of stories recently about people discovering their Native American identities – this story appealed to me because it highlights how people who were raised largely within Native communities were inspired to reconnect with their Scandinavian heritage, and why that was important to them.
By Dan Kraker | Duluth
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Melissa Walls grew up in International Falls, Minn., the daughter of an Ojibwe — or Anishinaabe — mom and a Swedish-American dad. But, for the most part, she was raised as part of her mom's large extended family, which descends from Ojibwe bands on both sides of the Canadian border.
Many of them worked at the Indian Center in town, where she remembers playing with other Native kids as a child. "So I knew very well that I was Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, growing up," Walls said.
In graduate school, she studied American Indian mental health and bonded with other Native American students. Now she's a professor and researcher for Johns Hopkins University, based in Duluth, where she's immersed herself in Ojibwe culture.
But through all this time, she never knew much about her dad's side of the family. Then, one day about five years ago, her dad's sister found an ad in the paper for a Swedish TV show called “Allt for Sverige.”
“And she sent me in the snail mail, a little clip of this little ad and she said, ‘they're casting for a reality show in Sweden, you should apply and learn something about this side of the family.’"
‘All mothers care for their daughters': A traditional Korean dish honors motherhood through children’s birthdays
This story involved a conversation between my mom and me. It's a very personal story that ties in parts of my cultural identity and heritage, while also allowing a chance for me to learn more about my mom. For Koreans, this soup is pretty symbolic of birthdays and it's the epitome of home cooking since it's pretty uncommon to find it at a restaurant.
Doing this story also meant being vulnerable in sharing food that's not seen as the norm here in the United States. We have birthday cake and candles, but nothing like seaweed soup. As someone who rarely saw herself represented in stories and for having been on the receiving end of racism for the food I ate, this story was also a healing conversation. My mom was nervous about speaking and worried about whether people would make fun of her broken English. Instead, I had her speak in Korean and we talked normally. It was a powerful moment where both of us could be our complete selves.
By Hannah Yang | New Ulm
Birthdays are about celebrating the arrival of a child, but in Korean tradition, one special dish made every birthday honors motherhood and the relationships between parents and their children.
During my husband’s birthday weekend, his favorite foods are on the menu: baked mac n’ cheese and yellow cake with fudge frosting. Aaron chooses these every year, but I always make a small pot of miyeok guk — seaweed soup.
By Lee Hawkins, special correspondent for American Public Media
Lee Hawkins reflects on the powerful impact a teacher had on him.
“Mr. Bridgeman’s paternal spirit immediately filled me with a sense of wonder and a brand-new feeling of security. Without him saying a word, I felt a higher standard of expectation and sensed a loving, but no-nonsense accountability that my father inspired at home.”
For the radio story, I needed to capture ambient sound to go along with the piece, so I asked Dr. Twyla Baker to read from the repatriated collection. By fate she read a passage that mentioned James Holding Eagle.
Sometimes when you do something good your ancestors will show their approval in little ways. What happened at the end of the radio story was my great-grandfather’s way of saying, “Good job grandson, I’m proud of you.” I’m here today because of the strength and resiliency he showed over 100 years ago.
After this story aired someone messaged me, “Wow! How are you going to top that?” And you know what? I’m OK if I never do — but I’m sure going to try.
By Mathew Holding Eagle III | Bemidji, Minn.
Thousands of culturally significant photographs, wax cylinder recordings and journals recently returned to the place where they were created over a century ago among the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes in North Dakota.
The return of the collection now in the archive of the Minnesota Historical Society was done through a process called digital repatriation. It’s a new tool being used by institutions including museums to return archival quality copies of cultural materials that are not physical objects back to the tribes they belong. These materials are considered intellectual properties.
“This is second best from actually getting the items back themselves, however, we can make it available to a much broader audience a lot easier,” said Dr. Twyla Baker, an enrolled member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation in northwestern North Dakota and president of the Nueta, Hidatsa, Sahnish College.
By Simone Cazares | St. Paul
Looking around Tina Jackson’s soul line dancing class at Oxford Community Center in the heart of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, you can feel the excitement as students walk into class and get ready to dance. As Jackson introduces the first routine the room fills with smiles, and one by one the dancers join in, ready to groove to the music.
Jackson, known by her community as Tina “Lady of Line Dance” Jackson, has been teaching soul line dancing for over 15 years. Every week she brings people together from all walks of life to learn the classic routines and come together through the music.
For Jackson, teaching soul line dancing is how she gives back to her community. She was born and raised near Rondo in the St. Anthony neighborhood and grew up going to the Oxford Community Center. Her childhood mentors helped her get started as a teacher and over the years she has built a community of dancers from everywhere she goes.
This family allowed me into their journey through a joyous but also painful process of contemplating a new identity, and new relationships. Their courage and trust made the story possible and I'm grateful for the opportunity to tell it.
By Dan Gunderson | Moorhead, Minn.
Feeling trepidation and hope, Peggy Mandel dropped a letter in the mail to a woman she’d never met but who held the key to a secret piece of her past.
Adopted and raised in a loving middle-class Jewish family, Mandel didn’t know her own origin story. As a kid, she could remember people asking, “Are you sure you're Jewish? You're too tall to be Jewish.”
She wasn’t sure either but needed to find out.
After decades of searching, she’d come across a name — someone who might be a blood relative, someone who would lead her to a wrenching history of Native people in Minnesota she wasn’t supposed to find.
By Kirsti Marohn | Pine River, Minn.
For more than a century, a gated dam in Pine River, Minn. held back the water that flowed out of Norway Lake into the Pine River and eventually to the Whitefish Chain of Lakes.
The Norway Brook dam was a centerpiece of the small north-central Minnesota city of about 900 residents, a summertime gathering spot for its annual summer festival and for kids itching to cool off.
But like many other dams that hold back water in Minnesota rivers, the gated structure, built in 1910, was aging and in need of repair.
When the Minnesota Department of Transportation decided to replace Highway 84 that ran along the top of the dam with a separate bridge, city leaders considered several options: Rebuild the dam with some modifications, or remove it and replace it with something that would reconnect the lake and the river, and allow fish to travel upstream.
By Emily Bright | Farwell, Minn.
Farwell, Minn. has a population of about 50. It doesn’t have traffic lights or a gas station. But as of this summer, four buildings — most of its remaining town center — are now open as renovated arts and community spaces.
Arts workshops, concerts, gallery shows and pop-up art sales, all by local artists, are scheduled every Saturday through September in the new venues, bringing new energy to the community southwest of Alexandria.
"Maybe it is true, if you build it they come," said Gloria Pfeifer, who organized the artist lineup, and has been heavily involved in the renovations of all four buildings.
The rest area story was really special to me for three reasons. It was able to reveal some of the magic and intention behind something that may seem very neutral, or even boring, that we take for granted.
Then, it is a story that highlights the common good: Most folks at some point or another need to use a rest stop, and these outposts were created through the will of the people to provide shelter and respite for us all.
And lastly, I got to learn that Funk Revival, the “Pizza Hut” style of architecture, is a thing.
By Alex V. Cipolle | Alexandria, Minn.
Roadside rest stops typically aren’t built to last. Most travelers through Minnesota never give their designs a thought or raise their eyes to the roof line.
It’s a different vibe, though, at the Burgen Lake stop near Alexandria, where state and local officials see a piece of history worth saving.
Burgen Lake’s architecture is considered a gem of 1970s modernist “funk/revival." Its buildings and grounds, largely untouched in 50-plus years, are candidates now for the National Register of Historic Places.
“I’m really excited to see this site potentially on the national register, because it’s another era of travel,” said Brittany Johnson, director of operations at the nearby Douglas County Historical Society.
I think this piece was memorable for me because it shows that arts and culture doesn’t have to be ‘highbrow.’ It can be following a story about a bunch of people who meet in the forest every month during the summer to role play a fantasy epic.
By Jacob Aloi | Nisswa, Minn.
On a fall weekend in Nisswa, the Minnesota chapter of Alliance, a national LARP organization, met for the climatic end of a years-long story arc. It involved a battle on the grounds of Miller Castle, between an army of Orcs and Hoblings and a group of armor-clad adventurers bearing foam weapons.
“The players have been tasked to kill one of the champions of the enemy nation that’s invading their country,” said Ryan Codner, one of the plot writers for the group. He explains the battle is just one of many that will decide the fate of Arabella, the fantasy Kingdom of the game.
The basics of LARPing are simple. Participants create characters with certain skills and abilities, called “player characters.” Some are what is called NPCs or non-player characters. They take on the roles of monsters, villains and townspeople who can set the adventurers on quests.
By Tim Nelson | St. Paul
If you've ever learned a band instrument, or know someone who has, chances are you've heard the tune "Blues in the Closet" — a signature of the bebop era.
What you may not know is that its roots go back to north Minneapolis, where one of its creators grew up. Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 marked exactly 100 years since that jazz pioneer, Oscar Pettiford, was born.
Pettiford got his start on the stages of the Twin Cities, helping create a "Minneapolis sound" long before Prince — a sound that forever changed American music. He played with a who's-who of jazz greats across the U.S. and in Europe, before his untimely death.
"He probably doesn't get the right amount of credit that he should," bassist Christian McBride, host of NPR's "Jazz Night in America" and a six-time Grammy winner, said of Pettiford. "He was probably the most important bass player of that bebop generation in terms of creating new language for the bass, and playing what Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were playing, on the bass."
By Vicki Adame | Long Prairie, Minn.
Javier Garcia starts the green John Deere tractor and slowly moves it forward toward the rows of onions and squash. The blades behind the tractor dig into the soil, uprooting weeds and turning the earth as it goes.
Garcia is one of a small but growing number of Latino farmers in Minnesota. According to the agricultural census, Minnesota is home to about 112,000 farmers. Of those, 650 identify as Hispanic or Latino.
Garcia arrived to the U.S. in 1993 from his home in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Like many who immigrate here, he was looking for a better life.
As he talks about being a farmer, the wind blows against the battered remains of one of the greenhouses. It was partially demolished by a tornado that touched down weeks earlier.
“I never imagined I would own land here. But it’s given me the motivation (to keep going) because in Mexico we didn’t have land where we could grow crops,” Garcia says.
This was one of these stories that I think really fell under the radar during the height of the pandemic. So what happened is the city decided to embark on this project to map all the racial covenants in Rochester, and this is a very painstaking process that requires a lot of research.
The city council put their stamp on it. And in the local coverage, there was a line way down in the story that just mentioned — oh, and by the way, the Mayo Properties Association, which is effectively this entity that the Mayo Brothers and the other founders of Mayo Clinic used to buy and sell property, perpetuated this practice. And of course, as we say in this business, they buried the lead.
By Catharine Richert | Rochester, Minn.
Pastor Don Barlow sits in the front pew of his Baptist church on Rochester’s southeast side, holding a piece of paper, faded by decades in Olmsted County’s archives but still clear in its intent.
“This property shall never be occupied by a Negro,” Barlow reads from the deed for the plat of land where his predominantly Black church now stands.
It’s a moment of poetic justice for Barlow, who recently learned that about a century ago he and his congregants would have been legally blocked from worshiping there.
“The shock, the alarm comes from the clearness of the statement found within the legal documents,” he said. “It’s not so much the usage of the word Negro, because it was the language of the day, but more so the fact that in a legal document, it was being stated and accepted as the norm.”
For years, such covenants were a tool used across the nation and in Minnesota to keep nonwhite people out of white neighborhoods. They’re illegal now, but their impact remains, cascading into thousands of individual decisions about schools, homes and jobs that have collectively kept cities shackled to the past.
Reckoning with that past is hard for any city, but Rochester’s comes with an unusual twist: New research into housing covenants makes it clear how the founders of Mayo Clinic — a giant in Minnesota and Rochester, viewed globally as a force for good — played a role perpetuating practices that favored all-white neighborhoods.