A Legacy of World War I: No Illiteracy in North Dakota in 1924 – Gordon L. Iseminger – November 4, 2018

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Gordon L. Iseminger presented a program entitled “A Legacy of World War I: No Illiteracy in North Dakota in 1924.” Iseminger is an American author and professor of history at the University of North Dakota, where he is the university’s longest-serving faculty member, having joined the faculty in 1962. This event marked the second of our two events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, also called “The War to End All Wars.”  

This program was sponsored in part by North Dakota Humanities.

Humanities North Dakota

Erased Histories – Melissa Olson and Lynn Braveheart – July 23, 2017

A program on the Indian Adoption Project from 1958-1967 featuring Melissa Olson co producer and Lynn Braveheart co-writer of the audio documentary “Stolen Childhoods” in which both women tell the stories of their mother’s adoptions into white families out of the Ojibwe and Oglala Lakota Tribes. Olson and Braveheart work as Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Guardians ad Litem for the 4th Judicial District of Hennepin County in Minneapolis advocating for and representing the interests of Indian children in ICWA Child Welfare Court proceedings. Their audio documentary is available here and you can find them on Facebook here.

Supported in part by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

North Dakota Humanities Council

Pulitzer on the Prairie – Mike Jacobs and Mark Trahant – September 11, 2016

Mike Jacobs

Mike Jacobs

On September 11, Prairie Talks marked the centennial of the Pulitzer Prize with “Pulitzer on the Prairie,” a talk featuring Mike Jacobs, former editor of the Pulitzer prize-winning Grand Forks Herald, and 1989 Pulitzer finalist Mark Trahant, who is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota.

Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant

Mike Jacobs was editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald when it won a 1998 Pulitzer for Public Service for coverage of a flood that devastated the city.

Trahant was a Jury nominee (finalist) for a 1987 Pulitzer Prize as co-author of an Arizona Republic series called “Fraud in Indian Country.” He also served as a jury-pool judge for the Pulitzer Prizes in 2004 and 2005.

Tom Gerhardt

Tom Gerhardt

Held at Prairie Village Museum, the talk was moderated by KXMB-TV news director Tom Gerhardt, Bismarck.

This event was supported in part by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Fighting Stigma: Saving Lives – Beth Huseth, R. N. and Rev. Phil Leer – June 12, 2016

The Prairie Talks Event, “Fighting Stigma: Saving Lives,” will explored mental health issues, the related stigma that still exists in our rural communities, and how we can help those who are struggling.

BethThe featured speaker was Beth Huseth, R.N., chair of Community Cares about Suicide Awareness and Prevention in Harvey, N.D., and former North Dakota Suicide Prevention Coalition board member.

Huseth was joined by the Rev. Phil Leer, a founding member of Community Cares and pastor to Harvey families who have lost loved ones to suicide.


The Theater of Public Policy – September 13, 2015


From left to right, T2P2’s Tane Danger, Dr. Chad Litton, Dr. Paul E. Sum, and Nathan Steffen

Prairie Talks welcomed the Theater of Public Policy, along with panelists Dr. Paul E. Sum from the University of North Dakota, Dr. Chad Litton from the University of Mary, and Nathan Steffen from Bismarck State College on September 13, 2015 at the Prairie Village Museum.

The Theater of Public Policy (T2P2) combines public policy analysis with improvisational comedy. The show opens with an on-stage panel discussion among thought leaders on a given subject. Based on this interview, the cast improvises scenes that illuminate the topic in new and entertaining ways. During the second half of the show, the panelists take questions from the audience, engaging everyone in the process, and the show is concluded with a final series of improv humor based on all the events of the program. The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote: “Imagine C-SPAN being swarmed by the cast of SNL and you’ve got The Theater of Public Policy.”


Members of the T2P2 improv troupe.

At Prairie Talks, T2P2 addressed the ethics of corporate contributions to political campaigns and lobbying. Expert panelists included Dr. Paul E. Sum from the University of North Dakota, Dr. Chad Litton from the University of Mary, and Nathan Steffen from Bismarck State College. Each brought to the discussion significant scholarly research on ethics, political science, and the social sciences. Their insights, combined with the energy of the performers, made for a dynamic program!

This event was supported in part by the North Dakota Humanities Council.


Bill Thomas and Lorraine Davis – June 14, 2015

Prairie Talks welcomed Bill Thomas, director of radio at Prairie Public, and Lorraine Davis, founder of the Native American Development Center, to share their insights on how stories shape our lives as individuals, communities, and a society overall. Thomas and Davis are currently collaborating on a project to record interviews with some 50 Native Americans in the Bismarck area, which will be aired on Prairie Public during the summer of 2015.

Photo - Bill ThomasBill Thomas started at Prairie Public in 1999 as the first manager for the new public radio network formed with NDSU and UND. He came to North Dakota from working in Lincoln at Nebraska’s Public Radio Network. Before that, like many people in media work, he moved around as his jobs changed. He has worked in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois; Los Angeles; Washington, DC; and St. Louis. He started small community stations, managed national program distribution, has been a program director, a station manager and a network manager.

Photo - Lorraine DavisLorraine Davis is the founder and executive director of the Native American Development Center (NADC) in Bismarck, North Dakota. A Native American woman, professional, and mother of four, she has overcome alcoholism, poverty, homelessness, oppression, and violence. Her experiences directly informed the formation of the Native American Development Center in September 2012. She is an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate with descent at the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (MHA) and her father is Mexican American. Lorraine has served the community as part of the homeless and poverty coalition, a Mandan Public School Board Member, and advisor to the Mayor of Bismarck to recruit Native American career talent. She is married to the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner, Scott Davis. She believes the NADC will be a supportive and culturally relevant foundation for Native Americans to turn to when they are seeking a better life.

Todd Melby and Marty Young Bear – September 7, 2014


Alaric Skjelver introducing the speakers Todd Melby and Marty Young Bear

The face of North Dakota has changed significantly since it gained statehood 125 years ago. In recent years, the oil and gas producing counties have experienced rapid growth and industrialization, the effects of which trickle across the state. Prairie Talks focused that phenomenon by welcoming Todd Melby, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, and Marty Young Bear, a rancher and an enrolled member of Three Affiliated Tribes.

Todd Melby

Todd Melby

A native of Hettinger, North Dakota, Todd Melby is a reporter, radio producer, and documentary filmmaker. He is the lead producer of Black Gold Boom, a public media project documenting North Dakota’s oil boom. His stories have aired on U.S. public radio stations, including NPR shows. He is a senior producer at 2 below zero, a public media nonprofit. And he’s won multiple national journalism awards, including a pair of Edward R. Murrows and Sigma Delta Chi awards. In 2014, he is directing a PBS television documentary on the boom.

Marty Young Bear

Marty Young Bear

Marty Young Bear is a rancher, saddle bronc rider, and an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes in New Town, North Dakota. Young Bear co-operates the MHA Nation’s Horse Power Program, a holistic wellness program utilizing horse culture to help families on the Fort Berthold reservation. He is an environmental advocate concerned with the preservation of the land for horses, animals, and people.

This event was co-sponsored by Friends of Prairie Village Museum and supported in part by the North Dakota Humanities Council. Treats and coffee were served following the talk. Thanks to the generosity of the Prairie Village Museum, attendees of this event were also invited to tour the museum at no cost!

North Dakota Humanities Council

Melanie Hoffert – January 26, 2014

Melanie Hoffart

Check out some pictures of the event on our Facebook page!

Prairie Talks welcomed Melanie Hoffert on January 26, 2014. Melanie Hoffert is the author of “Prairie Silence: A Memoir” (Beacon Press, 2013). She grew up on a farm near Wyndmere, North Dakota, where she spent her childhood wandering gravel roads and listening to farmers at church potlucks. Her work has been published in several literary journals, in which she received creative non-fiction awards, and she holds an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University. Melanie lives in Minneapolis and works for Teach For America. Learn more about Melanie and order her book here: www.melaniehoffert.com.

Recent reviews for Prairie Silence:
“The author’s mostly quiet narrative includes a wealth of haunting images and ideas that will linger long after the last sentence. A heartfelt love song to a place and its people as well as an honest and rewarding rendering of the author’s interior landscape.”
Kirkus Reviews 

“A heartfelt coming-out story as well as an eloquent elegy to a rural way of life that is rapidly vanishing from the American landscape.”
“Hoffert’s bittersweet and compelling memoir recalls her struggles at ending her silence and creating a fuller life for herself.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The quiet, lyric prose of Melanie Hoffert’s Prairie Silence crept into my days, making it impossible for me to stop turning pages. This book is about looking for oneself in places we are so often afraid to venture. A beautiful debut from a brave new writer.”
—Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance
“In Prairie Silence, Melanie Hoffert shows how the landscapes of our childhood continue to speak to us, and through us, long after we’ve left them behind. In this beautifully written and deeply imagined memoir, Hoffert invites us back to her North Dakota farming community for a season of harvest, a personal journey of profound courage and grace.”
—Judy Blunt, author of Breaking Clean

“Melanie Hoffert has written a gutsy, complicated book about the little town we both came from (but which she experienced in a much, much different way).”
Chuck Klosterman, author of Downtown Owl and The Visible Man

“ ‘Over the last ten years I have been trying to resolve a seemingly simple dilemma: how to tell the state of North Dakota that I am gay.’ That’s the heart of this involving memoir by a woman who grew up on a farm near Wyndmere, N.D.”
St. Paul Pioneer Press

This event was co-sponsored by the Heart of America Library and supported in part by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

North Dakota Humanities Council

Bjørn Engesland – September 22, 2013

Engesland - Photo

Prairie Talks welcomed Bjørn Engesland on September 22, 2013. Engesland started working in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in 1995 and became Secretary General in 1996. He has a Masters degree in law and has formerly been employed at the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights. He is a member of the board of the Institute for Human Rights.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was founded in 1977. The committee bases its activities on the Helsinki Declaration that was signed by more than 35 European and North American states at the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, later OSCE) in 1975. The Declaration states that respect for human rights is a fundamental factor in the development of peace and understanding between states.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is a non-governmental (NGO), non-profit organization which monitors compliance with the human rights provisions of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) within all OSCE signatory states and supports initiatives to strengthen democracy and civil society. In the last few years the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s international activities have focused especially on the emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The committee works irrespectively of states’ ideology and political positions, and concentrates on addressing breaches of the Helsinki Declaration, OSCE documents, and other international human rights treaties. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is politically independent.

This event was co-sponsored by the Rugby’s Sons of Norway Odin Lodge and Bismarck State College’s Embracing Diversity Team, and it was partially supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

North Dakota Humanities Council