Iceland’s Minister of Education, Science, and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir was the guest of honour at Mountain, North Dakota’s annual Deuce of August celebrations this year. The festival of Icelandic culture celebrated its 120th anniversary this year. The Deuce of August celebrations are organised by descendants of Icelanders who immigrated to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As many as 15,000-20,000 Icelanders immigrated to North America between 1875 and 1914 due to difficult living conditions in their country of origin. It’s tradition for a representative of the Icelandic government to attend the Deuce of August celebrations in Mountain, as well as those that take place to the north in Canada, in Gimli, Manitoba.
On her visit to Mountain, Lilja took part in the festival parade and held a speech where she emphasised the importance of maintaining connections between North Americans with Icelandic roots and their country of origin. As an example, the Minister mentioned the Snorri Program, which brings young people of Icelandic origin to Iceland to learn about their background. Over 500 youth have participated in the program, including some from Mountain.
Lilja also visited Vikur Lutheran Church during her time in Mountain. Built in 1884, it is the first Icelandic church to be erected in the United States. In 2013, the church and associated cemetery were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
American Icelandic speakers
“The legacy of West Icelanders’ descendants upheld here in North Dakota is truly important,” Lilja asserted. “People here make a great effort to cultivate their relationship with Iceland and keep our history and culture alive. Here in the area there are still descendants of Icelanders who speak Icelandic without having lived in Iceland. Despite the fact that more than 100 years have passed since the migration of [West Icelanders] ended, people are still very much aware of their origin and are proud of it.”
A press release from the Government of Iceland stated that many Icelandic nationals were also present at the celebrations, and groups from Iceland regularly visit Icelandic settlements in the US and Canada.