The Midwest

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Dear Reader,

I had an exciting few days visiting the Twin Cities. The Midwest is a region that is very near and dear to me, as it is to many Norwegians.

Did you know that more than 4.5 million Norwegian Americans live in the U.S. today? That’s almost as much as the entire population of Norway! And about 55% of those 4.5 million are in the Upper Midwest.

Between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians — at the time, rougly one-third of Norway’s population — immigrated to United States in search of a fresh start and new opportunities, and to try their luck in the “promised land.”

Today, Norwegian Americans are still very proud of their heritage, but many of them have also grown fond of wonderful American traditions such as Christmas tree lighting ceremonies and Thanksgiving. And that brings me to “Y” I was in Minneapolis this past week.

Juletrær and Pepperkake Villages

Monday evening, Norwegians, Americans and Norwegian Americans gathered at the newly opened Norway House to kick off the holiday season.

Children, parents and grandparents came to see the impressive gingerbread village, a replica of the Twin Cities. The detail and artwork are beautiful. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that in my life!

Then around 6:00 p.m., doing our best to keep warm, we started counting down in Norwegian – TRE, TO, EN – and lit the first annual Norwegian Christmas tree in Minneapolis!

It was great fun and I must say that Jon Pedersen and his team at Norway House have done an excellent job bringing together the Norwegian American community in Minneapolis to teach them about culture and art.

Thanksgiving – the Norwegian Way

On Tuesday morning, I had the pleasure of eating a real Nordic Thanksgiving breakfast – complete with bunads (a traditional Norwegian national costume), Norwegian knit sweaters, and about 900 Nordic guests. There was a special musical performance by the Bethel University Choir, speeches on freedom, faith, family and friends, and remarks by Reverend Hanson, former presiding bishop of the ELCA; Ford Bell, former president of the American Alliance of Museums; Gina Torry, Executive Director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum; and Don Shelby, the MC and senior journalist. I was impressed by their hospitality, smiles and celebratory mood, even though it was 6:30 in the morning!

But what was even more impressive is how much money the breakfast raised for charity – nearly $15,000 was donated by guests to the Minnesota Military Family Foundation and the Second Harvest Heartland, one of the nation’s largest, most efficient and innovative food banks.

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Climate Change and the Arctic

Later that same day, I held a speech at an NACC luncheon on “Climate and the Arctic – the Way Forward.” This discussion couldn’t have been more timely, with the Paris Climate Summit beginning this week. If you’d like to read my speech, the embassy has posted it here.

Sven Sundgaard, meteorologist at KARE 11 (no, that’s not KÅRE 11, but close enough!) introduced me. I shared with members of NACC and the Minneapolis business community Norway’s perspective on climate change: what our ambitions are for COP21, how the Arctic plays a central role in Norway’s foreign policy, and what Norway is doing in regards to green initiatives in the areas of shipping, electric cars and lowering emissions.

During my trip, I also had the great pleasure of meeting with former Vice President Walter Mondale and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. These two are pioneers in US-Norway relations as well as in international issues. We had an excellent exchange of views related to the migration crisis unfolding in Europe, our bilateral cooperation and other global issues.

Speaking about global issues, my trip to Minneapolis also included a visit with Gina Torry from the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. She informed me that next June, the forum will host 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi. The event will focus on Kailash’s dedication to ending child labor and child trafficking while also looking at the peace and security implications of connections between human trafficking, migration, refugees and climate change. I look forward to working closely with Gina and her team on this forum next June.

Visiting the Twin Cities is always a productive, educational and good time. On a final note, I would like to mention this: among all the Norwegian Americans I met during those three days, one question I seemed to get a lot was “Who will be the next U.S. ambassador to Norway?” My response: “That is a decision that needs to be made in Washington, not in Oslo.”

– K.R.A.

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