'Taking a stand in history': Bemidji-area students show their projects at BSU

BEMIDJI--Adolescent history buffs had the chance to show the fruits of their studies Monday at a regional Minnesota History Day competition at BSU. Middle schoolers from Bemidji, Red Lake, Cass Lake-Bena, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig, and a handful of other...

Red Lake senior Violet May speaks with two judges Monday during the Northwest Regional History Day competition at Bemidji State University. May’s project was titled “Standing Tall in a Sea of Pine.” (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI-Adolescent history buffs had the chance to show the fruits of their studies Monday at a regional Minnesota History Day competition at BSU.

Middle schoolers from Bemidji, Red Lake, Cass Lake-Bena, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig, and a handful of other northwest Minnesota schools showed off their History Day projects, which they had spent months envisioning, researching and preparing under the theme of "taking a stand in history."

Red Lake Middle School student Amber McNeal's project was about the "Lavender Scare" in the 1950s, when the federal government worked to remove gay and lesbian employees-President Dwight Eisenhower even signed an executive order barring homosexuals from working in the federal government, exposing and firing hundreds in the process. The order prompted protests and made Frank Kameny, a former U.S. Army astronomer, into a progenitor of the gay rights movement.

Violet May, a senior at Red Lake High School, studied the history of the reservation's timber industry. She said her interest there was piqued when she noticed the relative lack of historical sources on the subject. May said she delved into the Minnesota Historical Society's records and her school's library, which took out inter-library loans to get her the materials she needed.

The timber industry, she argued, brought jobs and money to Red Lake, but at the expense of massive deforestation, which left some areas unable to regrow and prompted Peter Graves-a high-profile Red Lake leader then-to take a stand.


"He couldn't stand by and watch as it was being destroyed, so he introduced a major forestry lawsuit," May said. "It took 50 years to resolve, but it netted the people of Red Lake $53.3 million dollars."

She did an earlier History Day project about the Red Lake walleye population, and started working on this year's project in June.

"I definitely like challenging myself every year," May said, adding that she's just barely missed the cut to go to earlier national History Day competitions.

Tim Hoogland, director of the History Day program, said the projects are a way to develop students' college-level academic skills.

"If you were studying history in high school, it's mostly textbook, worksheet, multiple choice tests. But if you end up taking a class like this at the University of Minnesota or Bemidji State, mostly you're not getting worksheets and multiple choice tests, right?" Hoogland said as he stood in the university's Beaux Arts Ballroom in a "Mr. History" bowling shirt. "So, if you do an in-depth research project where you have to create a project, defend a thesis, do in-depth primary source research, that's more what college wants you to be able to do."

Winners at the regional competition Monday will advance to the state-level History Day competition in April, and winners at state can go on to compete at the national level in Washington, D.C., in June.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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