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Lloyd Omdahl, Published October 05 2009

Omdahl: Institute fulfills real need

If North Dakota were a person, it would be deported for lack of documentation. The book shelves, film libraries and magazine racks are sparse when it comes to North Dakota history, culture, government and economy. For that reason, the Dakota Institute is a welcome addition to the publishing being done by the State Historical Society and the North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies.

A new kid on the historical block, the Dakota Institute will be adding its efforts to the documentation of the state by sponsoring symposia, book publishing, film documentaries and interpretative exhibits on state history and personalities.

The Institute is a branch of the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation of Washburn. The Fort Mandan Foundation is the organization that rebuilt Fort Mandan, 1804-05 winter quarters of the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery, and developed the Lewis & Clark Interpretative Center under the leadership of Washburn native David Borlaug.

Heading the Institute is Clay Jenkinson, a Rhodes and Danforth scholar, who is best known around North Dakota for his first-person interpretations of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and Theodore Roosevelt. Jenkinson is also a Distinguished Visiting Humanities Scholar at Bismarck State College and lead scholar at the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.

Jenkinson teamed up with David Swenson to direct “When the Landscape Is Quiet Again: The Legacy of Art Link,” a one-hour film that won regional and national awards and appeared several times on Prairie Public television. The American Association for State and Local History presented Jenkinson with the Award of Merit for his work on the film.

The Dakota Institute is now working on a documentary of the Gov. Bill Guy administration.

Depending on availability of resources, other possibilities for future documentaries include the Harold Schafer family, Eric Sevareid, Sister Thomas Welder, and others now honored in the North Dakota Hall of Fame.

Last April, the Institute hosted a second symposium on the 1832-34 Missouri River expedition of German Prince Maximilian and Swiss artist Karl Bodmer. Next spring, a symposium will be held on the life and times of Eric Sevareid.

In other types of documentation, the Institute will republish several books written by Jenkinson and is already sponsoring The Thomas Jefferson Hour, a popular public radio feature hosted by Jenkinson.

Because the Fort Mandan Foundation is a private nonprofit organization, it has the flexibility required to entertain a diversity of proposals utilizing a variety of media with a mixture of grants and donations. The foundation has almost 1,000 supporting members located in 34 states, indicating incredible growth for an organization born in the ’90s.


Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. E-mail ndmatters@q.com