North Dakota in the Early Twentieth Century
West of Minnesota, on the southern border of Canada, and within the large area of the central United States known as the Great Plains, North Dakota has an arid climate with extreme temperatures and a rural economy. Sparsely populated until the late-nineteenth century, the state has a history of groups of Native Americans and immigrants competing for land. Anglo-American and Canadian settlers moved to North Dakota in the mid-nineteenth century to farm and participate in the fur trade, but many moved away in the late-nineteenth century, and Norwegian and German-Russian immigrants began to replace them. By 1910 North Dakota had an uncommonly large percentage of foreign-born residents, and its two main immigrant groups tended not to mix.
North Dakota experienced a population boom between 1898 and 1915, when railroads had been completed, connecting the region with the West. In politics, Republican Progressives instituted reforms and made a number of businesses public enterprises in order to stand up to the Minneapolis-St. Paul grain traders. They were accused of mismanagement, proGerman sympathies, and socialism, however, and they were removed from office in the recall election of 1921. In 1913, the year the events of “Fleur” take place, people were beginning to suffer in small towns, farms, and on Native American reservations, which were particularly hard-hit by disease, drought, and lack of food. Sioux, Chippewa, and other tribal lands had been greatly reduced by this time, to some of the least fertile areas of the state, and Native Americans continued to die after the disappearance of buffalo herds and the onset of disease and malnutrition in the late nineteenth century.
The Chippewa, otherwise known as Ojibwa or Anishinabe, first came in contact with French colonial fur traders in the sixteenth century, in the Great Lakes region. Traditional Chippewa lifestyles varied according to region, but most Chippewa were hunters and not farmers, a tradition that continued into the twentieth century. Many Chippewa became involved in the French fur trade after contact with Europeans, which led to alliances with the French. Like other Plains Native Americans, they were gradually driven off their indigenous land by expanding Americans of European decent. In addition to killing Chippewa in conflicts such as the French and Indian War and the War of 1812, these Americans forced Chippewa tribes into undesirable areas, depleted the plains of animals for them to hunt, and spread disease. Chippewa tribes were also involved in a series of disputes with the Sioux, whom they drove south as they made their way to Minnesota, North Dakota, and Ontario. After the buffalo were nearly exterminated and many Native Americans faced malnutrition, the American government passed the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. Forcing Native Americans to give up tribal lands for individual land grants, this policy led to the transfer of nearly sixty percent of Native American land to whites by the time it was repealed in 1934. Because of disease, inadequate hunting space, malnutrition, and the loss of land to whites, the suffering of the North Dakota Chippewa persisted into the early twentieth century. Untold numbers died, lived in poverty, and/or suffered from depression as they were forced to change their way of life.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Louise Erdrich, Published by Gale Group, 2010