Henry Sibley Warriors

Name Change Coming for Henry Sibley High School

Thanks to Amore Coffee for their support.

Tonight the ISD 197 school board voted to move forward with a process to change the name of Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights. The unanimous vote is just a first step. The next step is for the administration to develop a process for proposing and approving a new name for the school. There is no current timeline for when the school will have a new name.

“Like many of you, I’ve been uncomfortable for years with the name of our high school,” said Board Member Stephanie Levine. “But I’ve believed a name change should not be imposed by the school board but should be a grassroots effort led by the community.”

The school board talked about the flood of input they received from the community, which supported the name change roughly 10 to one. Superintendent Peter Olson-Skog also expressed support for changing the name.

“We’re not trying to erase history, this is an opportunity to enhance history,” said Board Member Byron Schwab. “If we’re not looking at how we can improve, we’re not going anywhere.”

In addition to the name change, the mascot and logo could potentially change as well.

Process of Change

Last week we reported that the vote was coming after the urging of a group of current and former students, local residents, and members of the Dakota communities of Minnesota. They argued in an online petition, “While Henry Sibley is an important figure in Minnesota history, his actions against the Dakota people demonstrate a character unsuitable to honor with the name of our school.”

Sibley, the first governor of Minnesota, played a key role in the 1862 conflict with the Dakota. Local writer and Sibley alum Bill Lindeke wrote a detailed history examining Henry Sibley and sharing his opinion supporting the name change. Both the City Pages and the Star Tribune recently covered the potential name change this fall as the debate continued.

The issue came up for discussion at the November 16, 2020 school board meeting when the board heard a presentation from Kevin Maijala and Dr. Kate Beane from the Minnesota Historical Society and the district’s American Indian Liaison Allicia Waukau Butler on the perspectives she gathered from the district’s American Indian families (begins at about 5:46 in the online video).

The school board looked to their policy for naming facilities, which states that if a building is named for a person, they need to demonstrate good character and have made significant contributions or achievements. This was the deciding factor for board members.

“Even by the standards of his day, [Sibley] exhibited poor character,” said Levine.

Previous Changes and Pushback

The school has debated the name, mascot, and logo in the past, opting to keep the mascot name after a student vote in 1988 but dropping the Native American head logo in 1996 after support from the student council. A griffin briefly became the new logo before being replaced with the current knight mascot in 1999. The change prompted pushback in 2005 when a group organized a protest and made T-shirts featuring the former Native American head logo.

In a statement, the school board at the time cited a 1988 Minnesota State Board of Education resolution denouncing the use of any mascots or symbols that disparage the ethnic heritage of American Indians and said , “Any high school with an American Indian logo is teaching students how to stereotype a group of people on the basis of race, religion, ancestry and cultural ethnicity.”

The district has had a school named for Henry Sibley since 1887. The current school is the third iteration, founded in 1954.

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5 comments

  1. I strongly feel that a name change is wrong. I truly understand on what Henry Sibley did but he is no different in what George Washington or Thomas Jefferson did in owning slaves. Let’s see if Hastings HS or the town of Hastings change there name as well. I may not have graduated from Sibley but I also will consider myself a true Warrior.

    1. I totally agree with your comments David Law. Everyone that lived in that time period did very questionable things. To be removing names of schools, parks, government buildings, statues because these people did questionable things in that era isn’t right. We’re looking at our history with 2020 eyes and erasing past history. We have many political figures, of this era, who have and are living questionable life’s, and we honor them with placing their names and/or images on buildings/parks, etc. Let’s remove them as well.

  2. I agree with you. I went to Sibley High School as did my husband and our three children. That is our alma mater. It’s depressing to see all the name changes that are happening. In my opinion they should leave the names that were given originally. The past is the past. Let it stay in the past.

  3. I understand that many people will be disappointed for sentimental or political reasons, but this is the right decision. It is a moral statement to say this man’s life does not reflect our highest values. History is not actually being erased with this decision. People confuse history with monuments: history is the story of what happened, and you find that in books (go look, Henry Sibley is still there!); monuments and memorials are to honor the best parts of history—and for his actions against the Dakota, Henry Sibley does not represent the best part of our history.

  4. I am thinking perhaps this should be a decision of the residents of the district who pay taxes. I am wondering what documentation supports the additional expense of the four rows of solar panels on the top of the new construction of the high school, it would be interesting to read some facts on that subject as well.

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