Minnesota’s Cultural Mélange
Listen to A Prairie Home Companion long enough and you might think Minnesota’s entire population comes from Scandinavia and Germany. These are the largest ethnic groups, but today’s Minnesotans have come from all corners of the globe.
St. Paul is the more Irish of the Twin Cities, but there are good pubs on both sides of the river. Northeast Minneapolis (Nordeast), once the destination of choice for Eastern European immigrants, is still graced by many Eastern Orthodox churches. Other than some street names (Nicollet and Hennepin), the most noteworthy remnant from the French-Canadians are the tourtieres (meat pies) sold at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis’s American Swedish Institute is a busy cultural center, and St. Paul’s Penumbra Theatre Company is one of the nation’s premier African American dramatic groups. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Reservation in Prior Lake, where the massive casino has made millionaires out of all tribal members, isn’t your typical reservation, though they do host a powwow in August.
The Twin Cities has the largest urban Hmong population in the world, and the Hmong New Year celebration in St. Paul is a mighty big event.
St. Croix Valley
In the early 20th century the Iron Range was an impressive cultural melting pot. These days the diversity is mostly celebrated in edible form and foods like pasties and potica are available at many restaurants and bakeries. Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm looks at the Range’s ethnic heritage as well as mining. Embarrass, settled by Finns who wanted to farm instead of mine, remains a deeply Finnish town at heart.
The Bois Forte Ojibwe Reservation near Orr is still a very traditional place, and the tribe runs the Bois Forte Heritage Center near Tower. There’s more Native American history on display at Grand Portage National Monument on the Grand Portage Ojibwe Reservation. You can see ancient pictographs in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park.
Winona once produced more sauerkraut than any city west of Chicago, and the east end still has the largest concentration of Poles from the Kashubian region in the United States. Farther up the Mississippi is the Prairie Island Dakota Reservation, and Minnesota’s largest Amish communities are centered on Harmony.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition