We measured strain at more than 60 locations in metasedimentary and metavolcanic rocks of the Vermilion district, an E-W trending Archean greenstone belt in Minnesota. Strain ellipsoid orientations and shapes correlate strongly with N-S location in the belt, but magnitudes do not. Flattening strains occur near the present Vermilion fault (which bounds the greenstone belt to the north) with constrictional strains to the south. The observed strain patterns can be mathematically modeled by deformation paths which produce the flattening strains (with west plunging λ1 axes) by dextral shear of the constrictional strains (with east plunging λ1 axes). Using reasonable geologic constraints, the shear plane must dip to the north with a subhorizontal shear direction. Structures throughout the district also indicate dextral shear. A geometrical finite element program uses the measured strains to destrain the rocks and find the configuration which most closely satisfies strain compatibility equations. The linear E-W strain patterns and minor rotations about horizontal axes during the deformation preclude origin of the greenstone belt by infolding and shear off the flanks of a rising granitic diapir. By accounting for rotations which result in the (deformed) curvature of the original surface, a true estimate of 50% N-S shortening across the belt can be made. The data and deformation models favor the origin of the Vermilion district rocks at a convergent margin, most likely as a N-dipping subduction zone complex with shallow slab dip. The origin of the constrictional strains remains enigmatic.