MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Twin Cities-area high school will no longer be named after Minnesota’s first governor, following complaints by community members and alumni about his treatment of the state’s Dakota people.
A West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area Schools (District 197) school board voted unanimously Monday night to change the name of Henry Sibley High School. And it was some passionate alumni who made it happen.
Henry Sibley High School is a suburban school with proud alumni. Bethany Fischer Williams graduated in 1997.
“I was involved in student council and I was prom chair and I was a cheerleader and a theater nerd,” she said. “It was at the time nothing that we understood to be problematic about that name, to be honest we didn’t know much about the issue at all.”
The issue is the history she says they weren’t taught about the school’s namesake.
“Most people know he was our first governor and that’s true. What ends up happening is Sibley beckoned the guy in charge of eradicating the Dakota from the land where the high school sits,” she said.
She and other grads watched as racial tension came to a head after the death of George Floyd and decided it was time for a name change. They started rallying support and had Indigenous leaders speak to the school board.
Dr. Kate Beane is Director of Native American Initiatives at the MN Historical Society. She spoke to the board a few weeks back.
“My grandparents’ grandparents were forced out of their homes here in Minnesota by Sibley’s army, and that’s a fact,” she said.
Alicia Waukau-Butler is the ISD 197 American Indian Liason. She told the board, “There’s a lot of parents with younger kids who have questioned sending their kids to Sibley because of the name, solely based on the name.”
The board listened, voting to change the name, making a new kind of history.
“I hope it’s a lesson to the students too that adults can change their minds, adults can learn more and do better and that I think is a powerful conversation to be having in 2020,” Fischer Williams said. “I thinks it’s important to note while this is very important to the Native communities, it’s not their work to right this wrong. It’s not their job to put in the emotional labor to fix it. And that became clear. It was our school and we needed to right it.”
She says a committee of people from different backgrounds will help choose a new name.