The Kensington Runestone

Originally published as part of the Digestable newsletter

I listened to the radio play Saber, MN, recommended by the lovely Molly Rose, and it got me thinking about one of Minnesota’s foundational myths. The fictional town of Saber, MN was founded because of the discovery of a sabertooth tiger skull fossil by a farmer plowing their field. This reflects the actual discovery of a supposed archeological artefact in Douglas County, Minnesota: the Kensington Runestone.

The territory called Minnesota exists on the ancestral lands of the Oceti Šakowiŋ (Seven Council Fires) and Ojibwe Anishinaabe people. Oceti Šakowiŋ were killed, starved and forcibly removed from this land during the U.S. Dakota War. Ojibwe people also resisted removal, culminating in the deaths of around 350 Ojibwe in the Sandy Lake Tragedy. Though many Ojibwe were still forced from their land, the aftermath of the tragedy led to the creation of reservations on their ancestral lands where many Ojibwe reside today.

As you would expect, this history isn’t taught or discussed comprehensively. Instead, many white Minnesotans partake – some consciously and others by osmosis – in the Kensington Runestone’s alternate history:

In 1898, just over 30 years after the execution and forced removal of the Oceti Šakowiŋ, Swedish immigrant Olof Öhman discovered a rune-covered stone in his field. According to its inscription, the stone dated to 1362 and recorded Scandanavian explorers in Minnesota. The runestone reads:

“Eight [Swedes] and twenty-two Norwegians on an exploration journey from Vinland to the west. We had camp by two skerries one day’s journey north from this stone. We were [out] to fish one day. After we came home [we] found ten men red of blood and dead. AVM (Ave Virgo Maria) save [us] from evil.”

“[We] have ten men by the sea to look after our ships, fourteen days’ travel from this island. [In the] year 1362.”

The stone was immediately dismissed as a hoax. The Swedish written on the stone was modern, not 14th century and the feat it would have taken for Vikings to travel from Newfoundland, where Leif Ericson founded a colony for like two minutes, to Minnesota is absolutely wild. Today it would take you 51 hours on the highway – and these were ship folk. Also, Lief Ericson was Christian, but I’m not sure he and his crew would have been Ave Virgo Maria Christian.

But whether or not the runestone was real, the stone took on its own life for Scandanavian immigrants and other settlers in the territory. The wounds of native genocide and removal would have still been fresh and the alternate history of the runestone served as a panacea for conflicted Scandanavians. If Viking explorers had been in Minnesota in the 14th century, then they had just as much right to be here now as anyone else. And with western culture being what it is, a written account – even a false one – would be seen as much more credible than generations of indigenous oral history.

This carries forward to today. Just look at the state’s football team, the Minnesota Vikings. To the Scandanavians I know, Vikings are just another ancient people like the Romans or the Gauls. But to much of white Minnesota Vikings are heritage. This whole Viking white alternate history also plays into ecofascism but that’s another article.

To wrap up I’d like to submit into evidence some proposals to redesign Minnesota’s state flag, which depicts its own revisionist history of removal and settlement:

The color story here is cute and we have the “etoile du nord” for fur trapper representation, but that is clearly a Scananavian cross! See what I mean? Why is that there and why is it the most boring flat blue?

Here the Scandies are again but this time it’s not even cute! Purple and gold are the colors of the Vikings football team for those that don’t know, so we’ve got a double dose of the norse. The purple/gold color combo is harsh already but superimposed on blue it just makes my eyes hurt.

Okay this one seems tasteful and innocuous, just a lovely etoile du nord hanging out, #NorthStarState. But that white shape superimposed on top is actually the “nordic star” knitting pattern you may recognize from that sweater in the back of your closet. NEXT!

Not this. Okay so Minnesotans love to claim Prince as one of our own, which he is and you better not forget it. But white Minnesota often does this in a very “I would have voted for Obama a third time” kind of way. So here we have the love symbol in Vikings colors with an etoile du nord stuffed into it stretched out into, yes, a Scandanavian cross again. My doves? Crying.


So, what are white Minnesotans to do, feeling lost in land that never belonged to them? Let’s start by STOPPING LINE THREE!

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