Vinland Statue Dedication Speech

By Kristine Leander, July 28, 2013, at the unveiling of the Leif Erikson statue in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland

Distinguished guests, it gives me great pleasure to be here today. This day is the culmination of a 17-year saga for our group. In 1994, a visiting scholar from Trondheim, Norway—Rolf Grankvist—and I were having dinner at a restaurant near Seattle’s statue of Leif Erikson. He casually suggested that since the sagas say that Leif Erikson wintered over in Trondheim, and since Seattle is one of eight cities in America with statues of Leif Erikson, we in Seattle ought to give Trondheim a statue of Leif Erikson.

I said “Sure, we’ll do that,” and then woke up in the middle of the night wondering how we’d do that. I formed a committee and we hit on the idea of giving a replica of Seattle’s 1962 statue and asking people to donate in someone’s name, which would be displayed on plaques near the statue.

Three years later, in 1997, we did give Trondheim that statue, but the concrete of the base wasn’t even dry before the same professor began nagging us about Greenland, where Erik the Red and his family, including his son Leif Erikson, homesteaded. So, in 2000, we unveiled a statue overlooking the bay from which Leif set sail on his historic journey to North America.

Of course, with the Trondheim and Greenland statues under our belts, we had to see to it that L’Anse aux Meadows got a statue too. Several trips later for us, and many meetings later for you (and perhaps some handwringing too), here we are in 2013, unveiling a statue.

So now I’ve told you how we did it, but not why we did it.

Since the Vikings obviously never made it to the West Coast of North America, why does Seattle have a statue of Leif Erikson? Ah yes, the Vikings never made it, but the Norwegians, the Icelanders, the Swedes came in great numbers. And Scandinavian immigrants have a deep love for Leif Erikson. Every culture has a story, sometimes true, sometimes mythical, about the first person of their clan. And what Adam and Eve are to the Biblical story of creation, and what Abraham is to the Jewish people, is what Leif Erikson is to Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants.

He’s not only an epic hero for the ages, but he is also our symbolic ancestor. He was first, and we imbue him with traits of courage, willingness to take risks, a taste for hardship, and the ability to change course to take advantage of a good wind or a new opportunity, along with a constant yearning to find a better place, a better way.

All of these traits are important to immigrants, and as the children and grandchildren of immigrants, they’re in our DNA. We honor Leif as the symbolic ancestor of our own immigration stories. Who he was, or who we think he was, echoes who we want to be.

We used several slogans in our promotion with these three statues. One was “Their sails were filled with hope and courage.” Another one we came up with in time for this particular statue here in Vinland, perhaps at the very place where the Vikings first stepped ashore, was “Their footprints, our path.” That’s what Leif Erikson and the Vikings who visited here mean to us. “Their footprints, our path.”

And now before I conclude, I want to mention the plaques, which do not fit on this beautiful piece of basalt we obtained from Iceland just for this setting. In keeping with one of the Viking-like traits I mentioned earlier, “the ability to change course when a new wind comes up,” we are using this problem to our advantage. We are planning to get a larger piece of Icelandic basalt, or maybe two pieces, and we’ll be back here, we hope in a year, to install a new stone or two and more plaques with names of donors. There are brochures around telling you how to get your name included.

And now in closing, on behalf of all of the donors who gave generously, and the board members who worked so hard, the Leif Erikson International Foundation gives this statue to Norstead and the people of L’Anse aux Meadows, and we dedicate it to all Nordic immigrants to North America.

Kristine Leander is the President of the Leif Erikson International Foundation, based in Seattle. Our founding mission is to promote Leif Erikson’s rightful place in history, support Scandinavian cultural activities in our local community, and build bridges between Scandinavian communities and the people of the Pacific Northwest. Other board members are Barbara Grande Dougherty, Mary DeVuono Englund, Rolf Lystad, Dustin Matsen, Irene Mobraaten Patten, David Skar, Sharon Storbo, and honorary member Rolf Grankvist.